Swishing with salt water reduces gum disease

I have a new dental hygienist, Melissa, and one of the things I love about my dentist is that she hires people who are really experienced and good at what they do. Turnover is really low in her office.

The excellent hygienist she replaced went on to a job teaching dental hygiene. Her students are lucky to have her.

I’ve written about my dental issues before: the one back molar that had a pocket that kept getting deeper…4, 5, 7, 8…

Short version of how it happened: When I had my wisdom teeth extracted ages ago, the dentist did not remove the extra gum tissue. Years after, I got a piece of popcorn kernel stuck between the now-back molar (tooth #2) and that extra gum tissue. I could not get it out, went to sleep, and the next day I couldn’t feel it any more. It softened from saliva.

I forgot about it, but that gum tissue slowly became infected from bacteria drawn to the stuck food, and it eventually affected the bone.

I finally had the tooth extracted and bone treated a couple of years ago. Problem solved. Whew.

The thing is, having one deep pocket affects the entire microbiome of the mouth. Those inflammatory bacteria spread and deepen other pockets.

I still had some recovery to do.

My new hygienist gave me a very valuable tip. She said that if I swished salt water in my mouth for one minute after brushing and flossing, and did that every night for six months, my pockets would go down two points (millimeters).

She says a pocket 4 mm deep is consider borderline. Better to get 1, 2, or 3. A depth of 5mm or greater is serious, requiring more frequent cleanings and treatments.

I starting doing the saltwater swish, using about 1/8 teaspoon of Real salt (my favorite for cooking as well) and a tablespoon or two of warm water.

My setup for salt water swishing

Although I was not as consistent as she prescribed, I did it frequently enough that my pockets did indeed go down. Last week, a year after I started salt water swishing, Melissa took a look in my mouth and didn’t even bother to measure the pockets…they were all 1s and 2s.

My mouth feels deeply clean after the salt water swish. The reduction in bacteria helps your breath stay fresh longer, too.

Another bonus: the dental office is now scheduling my cleanings every 6 months instead of every 4 months.

Swishing with salt water after brushing and flossing is simple, inexpensive, and easily obtainable.

How does it work?

Salt pulls fluids out of tissues, reducing inflammation and swelling.

Salt alkalizes the pH of the mouth, reducing harmful bacteria that prefer an acidic environment to thrive. Thus, it is anti-bacterial, killing bacteria causing gingivitis and bad breath and reducing plaque on teeth. You can skip the mouthwash.

The swishing action also loosens any food particles not removed by brushing and flossing (and if you don’t have time to floss, swishing will at least keep your mouth cleaner).

It reportedly helps with canker sores and soothes toothaches.

Salt water swishing also promotes healing after dental procedures, preventing painful “dry socket” after an extraction.

If you gargle the salt water before spitting it out, it soothes sore throats and prevents colds, upper respiratory infections, and virus transmission.

Precautions? Don’t swallow it, spit it out! Don’t overdo it, either. Once or twice a day is enough. Overuse could irritate inflamed gums. Also, use warm water if your teeth are sensitive to cold.

Healing a deep dental pocket

Update, July 2021: This post was written four years ago. Find out what happened! Read Swishing with salt water reduces gum disease.

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I went to the dentist yesterday for an exam and cleaning, five months after my previous visit. The best news is that the pockets that had deepened from using the Waterpik on too high a setting and too much angle have returned to 2s, 3s, and a couple of 4s.

Since that appointment, I returned to flossing and using dental picks, as described in a previous post, Rebuilding tooth enamel after drinking water with lemon. I continued to gently brush my gumlines at a 90 degree angle.

That did the job, except for one tooth. The back part of my upper right back molar has pockets measuring 7 and 8 mm (3 or lower is healthy). It was painful when the hygienist was probing with her tool. On earlier visits it’s been 4 or 5 mm deep, concerning but not dire.

Now it’s dire.

I’ve never had any pockets this deep, and of course they want me to see a periodontist. (Beyond that, the hygienist didn’t have much scraping to do, so my plaque levels are down.)

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Image from Brandywine Dental Services

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Rebuilding tooth enamel after drinking water with lemon

Update: This post was originally published in 2016. Now it’s 2021, and in the interest of providing helpful information, I want to share what I’m doing now to reduce sensitivity.

I brush with a toothpaste from the company Boka that contains nano-hydroxyapatite, “a fortifying, 100% non-toxic version of hydroxyapatite, a mineral that makes up the primary foundation of teeth and bones.” It remineralizes teeth, reduces plaque, and reduces sensitivity.

I got a two-pack, a mint-cardamom-green tea flavor as well as their coconut-ginger flavor with chamomile, so I could try each flavor. So far, the coconut-ginger is the more refreshing flavor. If you want to try it, here’s my affiliate link.

My tooth sensitivity has diminished quite a bit, and cold water no longer makes me cringe!

Read on to learn about my path to get here.


I wanted to remineralize my tooth enamel after drinking water with lemon and noticing my teeth had become so sensitive it was scary. Drinking it first thing in the morning had softened my enamel, and by brushing my teeth right after drinking it, I was literally brushing my protective enamel away. Yikes.

My previous post from a couple of years ago contains many suggestions on how to drink water with lemon safely, preventing a loss of enamel.

After writing that post, I started researching how I could rebuild my tooth enamel. Now this is not something most dentists will tell you is even possible.

There is no hard scientific evidence about how to do this (so far, except for some data on fasting, which spurs the body to generate stem cells that repair tissues). Fortunately, one dentist did extensive research. More on him below. 

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Floss regularly for longevity, plus floss recommendations

Not kidding! Flossing regularly is an indicator of longevity. Of course it’s not a guarantee. It’s just that people who are knowledgeable about the benefits of flossing and who are motivated to get/keep their mouth in great shape floss — and are more likely to take care of their health in other ways.

Plus, flossing has been found to prevent heart disease.

Face it, flossing isn’t very much fun. About the most I’ve been able to get out of it is (1) being mindful about doing it daily and seeing improvements in gum health (no tenderness and bleeding is the goal), and (2) going to the dental hygienist and her barely needing to do any scraping. In fact, last time I went, I got to skip a scaling procedure, which would have been unpleasant. It also saved me $60. Continue reading