For sores or sores on the tongue and mouth, for wounds, for pain after a tooth is extracted and even to soothe a sore throat, salt water gargles are an ancient and documented remedy that today it is less frequent due to the presence of mouthwash preparations.
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Not surprisingly, its medical use is recorded in some of the oldest manuscripts in existence, dating from about 1,600 BC Ancient Egyptian medicine prescribed medicines against infections that listed salt as a main ingredient.
These were concoctions that were administered orally to rinse. Also the doctors of ancient Greece used salt combined with honey in a poultice to create an ointment to disinfect cuts and wounds.
A compound of great hygroscopic power
Salt, or sodium chloride, has a main virtue in its great hygroscopic power, that is, its ability to absorb water from the bodies and objects with which it comes into contact, as long as there is a semi-porous membrane in between.
This means that it is capable of drying almost any object. This property has been used since ancient times, for example, to preserve food, since the absence of water in it inhibits the action of microorganisms.
An example is the cod that we can buy in many establishments, such as in the “Pesca Salada” stores, where salt-dried fish is sold.
In Asia and Africa this conservation technique is still valid due to its low cost and its great advantages. And of course, the ham tradition in Mediterranean countries is also due to the hygroscopic virtue of salt.
Gargle with salt water
Does this mean that by gargling with salt water, we dry out the inside of our mouth? Not exactly, but partly yes. There is another virtue of salt that should be mentioned, and it is its ability to exert enormous osmotic pressure on microorganisms, so that it bursts their membranes and robs them of their internal water.
Very few bacteria and fungi are capable of living at high osmotic pressures. And precisely this is what we create in our mouth when we rinse it with water and salt, so that we eliminate microorganisms from the mucosa that may be causing us an infection.
A study published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Preventive Dentistry observed that the application of regular mouthwashes reduced bacterial plaque and improved the state of the enamel. In an indirect way, gargles can have some anti-inflammatory power by eliminating the bacteria that cause inflammation.
On the other hand, the drying effect of salt on the gums stimulates the activity of fibroblasts, the cells responsible for healing wounds and sores. So he observed a 2016 article published in Plos One magazine. This rapid wound healing contributes to better oral hygiene.
They are no better than proper oral hygiene
However, gargling is not a substitute for using a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss or interdental brushes. They are also no better than most mouthwashes designed to keep gums and mouth parts healthy.
The Spanish Society of Orthodontics (SEDO), in its 10 keys to take care of oral health in 2020 points out that “it is important to brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste for two minutes (and without forgetting the tongue and palate) with good technique.”
The ideal, according to SEDO, is to do it after each meal or at least three times a day, “doing a more thorough brushing after dinner.” It also recommends “complementing brushing with interdental brushes, dental floss or an oral irrigator, and ending with a specific mouthwash.”
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