Natural Antibiotic for Gum Disease

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease or periodontitis, features receding gums that may be swollen, dark red and tender. It is caused by plaque and bacteria on teeth, which harden into tartar; poor oral hygiene can play a role. If you have signs of gum disease, advises visiting your dentist promptly. Some people turn to herbal remedies, including the use of goldenseal, to treat gum disease. Consult your doctor before using goldenseal to alleviate symptoms of inflamed or infected gums.

Goldenseal, which has antimicrobial properties, can be used as a rinse for inflamed gums. (Image: marilyna/iStock/Getty Images)


Goldenseal, botanically known as Hydrastis canadensis, is a perennial herb native to eastern North America. The rhizomes, or underground stems, are used in herbal medicines. According to Blue Shield Complementary and Alternative Health, goldenseal contains two primary beneficial alkaloids, berberine and hydrastine, and is active against the E.coli and salmonella microbes. Herbs 2000 adds that goldenseal has anti-inflammatory properties, and notes that in addition to berberine-- which gives the root its yellow color-- the rhizome contains volatile oils and resin. BSCAH states that goldenseal has astringent properties as well.


Goldenseal has a long history of use as an herbal medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says that Native Americans employed goldenseal to treat skin diseases, irritation and inflammation of mucous membranes, ulcers and gonorrhea. According to BSCAH, herbal physicians recommended goldenseal for stomach problems in the early 1900's.


Herbalists and naturopaths have long recommended goldenseal as an antibacterial agent, mild topical disinfectant and mouthwash to treat canker sores, sore throats and gum problems. Herbs 2000 concurs, endorsing goldenseal specifically for infected gums. The University of Maryland Medical Center says that goldenseal is often used as a digestive tonic, immune system enhancer, hay fever treatment, cold remedy, and disinfectant for minor wounds.


There is some laboratory research supporting belief in goldenseal's antimicrobial properties. In a clinical study conducted by B.Y. Hwang and colleagues and published in the July 2006 issue of "Planta Medica," researchers found that extracts from the rhizome of the goldenseal plant -- particularly berberine and two C-methyl flavonoids -- showed antimicrobial effects against streptococcus and other bacteria.

Safety Considerations

According to NCCAM, goldenseal can interact with presciption medications. Consult your doctor before using it. The berberine in goldenseal can cause or worsen jaundice in newborns; if you are pregnant or breast feeding, you should not use goldenseal at all. Although goldenseal has antimicrobial properties, BSCAH warns that it is not a substitute for antibiotics.


To make a mouthwash for sore gums, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises mixing 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. of powder from a capsule of goldenseal with a cup of warm water. Let the mixture settle, then strain it. Rinse gums with the mixture, then spit it out.

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