Betel leaf for oral health: Benefits and uses

Chewing betel leaf is pretty common in many Indian households. It may be good for your oral health. Let us tell you how betel leaf supports oral health.

Bad breath can be embarrassing, and an obvious sign that something may not be right with your oral health. Beyond poor oral health, unpleasant breath can also be caused by consumption of foods like raw onions or garlic, or after waking up following a good night’s sleep. I especially love to pair raw onions with most foods, and when I am home, I don’t really give it much thought! But when I am outside, I tend to get conscious about bad breath. My mom told me to do what many people in India do — chew betel leaf after a meal. It is a heart-shaped, glossy green leaf traditionally used in south Asian culture for chewing after meals or for religious purposes. The traditional recipe includes the betel leaves combined with areca nut also called as supari, and slaked lime also called as chuna to make a paan which people chew after a meal. It may feel refreshing to have paan after a meal, but chewing only a betel leaf will also do, says my mom.

What are the benefits of betel leaf for oral health?

Nothing can replace the benefits of brushing and flossing to help in getting rid of dental plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that gets formed on the teeth. But home remedies like use of betel leaf can also be good for oral health sometimes.

Various studies have looked into the use of betel leaves orally or through products for improving oral health. Betel leaf herbal toothpaste was found to be helpful in dealing with plaque and gingival bleeding (bleeding gums), as per a 2022 study published in the Dentistry Journal. Another study published in the Journal of Global Oral Health in 2023 found that consuming plain betel leaves after a meal helped in neutralising the salivary pH. This, in turn, reduced the acid attack on teeth which causes demineralisation. It is the loss of minerals from the body that can lead to weak teeth enamel.

betel leaves for oral health
Betel leaves may combat bad breath. Image Courtesy: Adobe Stock.

Betel leaves have antimicrobial properties that can help reduce bacteria in the mouth, and prevent infections and bad breath, says Ayurvedic expert Dimple Jangda. It is also high in antioxidants, which may help reduce oxidative stress. Betel leaves act as a mild analgesic or a painkiller, and reduce pain from oral sores or toothaches. Also, chewing betel leaves improves saliva production.

How to use betel leaf for oral health?

Here are some the ways to use betel leaf:

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  • Consume betel leaves, but in moderation, and without additional ingredients.
  • Use herbal toothpaste with betel leaf in it
  • Use betel leaf mouthwash. You can boil a few betel leaves in water, strain the liquid, and squish it around in your mouth for a minute or more like a mouthwash.

Apart from oral health, in many homes, people also use it to treat phlegm and cough in children. For this, a betel leaf is warmed on a pan, made into a paste and applied on the chest of the child suffering from phlegm, says the expert. The heat generated from betel leaves paste helps the child cough out the phlegm and gives relief from respiratory health issues. Alternatively, you can also boil betel leaves in water and gargle with this concoction to treat sore throat and mouth infections.

For general oral health maintenance, it is best to chew just one betel leaf after a meal. You can also use the betel leaf mouthwash two to three times a week to prevent bad breath.

Betel leaves for oral health
Betel leaves can stain the teeth. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the side effects of betel leaves?

Before using betel leaves for oral health, know its side effects:

  • Overuse or chewing betel leaves with added substances like tobacco or areca nut can cause irritation and damage the oral mucosa, which is the mucous membrane lining or skin inside the mouth.
  • People may also experience allergies like itching, redness, or swelling in the mouth.
  • It can severely stain the teeth and make it visually unpleasant.
  • When betel leaves are consumed in excess or combined with areca nut or tobacco, it can even trigger oral cancer.

Who should avoid using betel leaves for oral health?

People with allergies should avoid consuming betel leaves. Those who have pre-existing oral health issues like sensitive gums, and mouth ulcers should avoid betel leaves as it can worsen these symptoms. Children and pregnant women should also avoid consuming betel leaves.

Betel leaves offer oral health benefits due to their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. But they must be consumed in moderation and with caution.

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