Cloves first reached Europe during the 4th century BC, where they quickly became a top remedy for digestive problems, nausea, and vomiting. But it wasn’t until the Medieval Ages that the clove took on legendary medicinal powers. As the story goes, during the 15th-century bubonic plague, a group of spice merchants-turned-thieves preyed on victims but miraculously never got sick. When they were eventually caught, the judge offered clemency in return for information on how they resisted the illness. Their secret was a mix of protective herbs, with clove as the main ingredient. Today, “thieves oil”, a blend of antibacterial/antiviral essential oils, is an important natural immune-boosting remedy.
Way before this dark Western backstory unfolded, in 200 AD China, the emperor reportedly used clove as a “mouth perfume” to keep the breath of his courtiers smelling sweet. Conventional western medicine has since confirmed its effectiveness against halitosis (bad breath). In fact, clove is still used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for a range of healing powers that are being proven by modern science:
- Fights skin infections including acne due to its anti-microbial & anti-fungal properties
- Reduces free radicals linked to cancer due its extremely high ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) - the highest out of 72 essential oils
- Reverses inflammation and cellular oxidation, which contributes to aging
Relieves respiratory disorders by decongesting and clearing bronchial passages while fighting pathogens
Across cultures and history, clove has been especially prized for its multiple uses in oral healthcare.
According to The History of Dentistry by Walter Hoffmann-Axthelm, the first reference to cloves in dentistry was made by 10th-century Arabian dentist Al-Gazzar, where he mentions them for controlling mouth odors and pain. Nowadays we know that eugenol -- the main compound in clove -- is to thank for its powerful analgesic (pain relieving) and antiseptic properties. The Journal of Dentistry published a study in 2006 proving clove essential oil had the same numbing effect as the topical agent benzocaine, making it an alternative before needle insertion. Clove oil can also relieve pain caused by dry socket, a possible complication of tooth extraction. When diluted with coconut oil it even makes a treatment for teething infants.
Clove oil reduces the bacteria that cause gum disease and helps create a balanced oral biome. Our mouths contain over 700 types of bacteria—some beneficial, others harmful. Rather than killing all the bacteria, which is what antibiotics and harsh mouthwashes do, bacteria should be "managed" to encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms. Good bacteria produce hydrogen peroxide that keeps harmful bacteria under control. Many strains of bad bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. But according to a report published in the journal Compendium, bad bacteria usually don’t develop resistance to clove oil.
Clove oil is effective against the bad bacteria that can move from your mouth into your arteries, causing a stroke or heart attack. There have been many studies linking gum disease and heart disease. A 2016 study in Oral Health and Coronary Heart Disease found that a common bacteria associated with periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), invaded endothelial cells as well as atheromatous tissues, creating a pathogenetic link between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease. Further studies have proven clove oil’s effectiveness against P. gingivalis.
Bottom line, if your oral care doesn't include clove oil, you're missing out on incredibly effective, natural protection against the bad bacteria that causes gum disease.
Clove truly delivers a mouthful of dental benefits– here are a few more impressive attributes:
- Reduces gum swelling and irritation thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties
- Stimulates circulation, due to its “hot” nature, enhancing gum tissue health
Helps remineralize teeth due to the protective properties of eugenol against acids (that can erode dentin), according to a 2012 research study conducted by the Indian government
Thanks to its essential role in oral health, you’ll find clove in several natural oral care products.