It appears clear that many, while promoting and enjoying these very special gifts of nature, really do not understand the power they hold. If they did, I believe that they would approach their use differently. How do we get more reliable, good information out to the general public without dampening down on people’s enthusiasm for what are truly incredible substances?
I recently received an email from a concerned Mom. She had seen some Moms recommending the use of undiluted clove oil applied to the gums for teething babies under two. She also found some sources said that it wasn’t a safe practice because of the possibility of sensitization and irritation, and now she was wondering what my thoughts on this were.
When information like this circulates it would appear that people are ready to accept, what might be a quick fix, without truly understanding the complexities of what it is they are dealing with. I think part of the problem around the sharing of misinformation around the use of essential oils for teething, is the fact, that many people really just don’t understand what essential oils are, or how powerful they actually are. We are a society this is often just looking for a quick fix. I have a headache, backache, this condition, that condition, what pill can I take? When introduced to essential oils this then becomes I have a headache, backache, this condition, that condition, what essential oil do I use? Everything is reduced down to give me a quick fix but just looking at the symptom one often misses the actual underlying cause. In order to affect a true climate for change and healing, it is important, at least to me, to take the whole person into consideration and come up with something that will help, not only with the symptoms but also help shift the root cause.
So back to the question about using Clove essential oil on the gums of teething babies under two. This is not a practice that I would ever recommend. One should be extremely careful about using essential oils around babies and young children and there are only a few oils that are considered safe at this age. Understanding why this is so comes back to understanding the complexities of an essential oil.
What one needs to understand is this, essential oils are complex chemical compounds, created in nature and through the distillation process. It is much like wines. We are all quite familiar with the differences we find in wines. The bottle might say Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but depending on the winery they come from they can all be very different. It starts with the grapes, only certain grapes will produce say a Pinot Noir, but the differences from one winery to another will depend on factors like where in the world they were grown, what was the weather like that year, how were they harvested, handled, processed, bottled etc. etc. Essential oils produced from the same species of plant will also vary depending on factors like where in the world they are grown, what the weather was like, how they were harvested, handled, processed, bottled etc but there are certain parameters they must meet in order to be a particular essential oils for teething. It is those specific chemical components that give the oil its properties and abilities, even when the percentages may change a bit from year to year, they are still the ‘identity’ of the oil. they too differ depending on where they are grown, how they are handled, what the weather was like etc.
So when we look at clove oil, regardless of where and how the plant was grown, organic or not, how it was harvested and distilled, clove essential oil will always have specific chemical constituents in it. In some oils this can be quite varied but in the case of clove essential oil, around 90% of its chemical components falls into the functional group called Phenols (eugenol, isoeugenol and acetaugenol), with around 6% falling into the functional group Sesquiterpenes and 1% falling into the functional group Oxides. In organic chemistry, functional groups are specific groups of atoms or bonds within molecules that are responsible for the characteristic chemical reactions of those molecules.
While phenols are known to have strong analgesic properties, they are also very warming and skin and mucous membrane irritating. Which is why caution is recommended when applying them to the skin and to areas where they have close interaction with mucous membranes (such as in the mouth).
Now I am well aware of the fact that clove essential oil is used in the flavouring and pharmaceutical industries, however we do need to keep in mind that when essential oils are used in products like these they are used in parts per million, not in whole percentages of the product. Unless you are mixing up huge batches of the product you are not going to be able to dilute it down enough for it to be a safe dose. According to Leung and Foster,Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs and Cosmeticsthe highest average maximum use level for clove is recommended at about 0.06% (that would be for adults) and for babies it would have to be around a third of that or maybe even less, so that would be around 0.02% or less i.e. a maximum of 200 parts per million with a recommendation of less than that. To put this into perspective, if we follow their guidelines (and these are industry standards) we’d be looking at a maximum of 1 drop of clove essential oil in 5 litres of carrier or 1 drop of clove essential oil in 1.32 US Gallons (169 ounces).
In any case, if I haven’t been clear, I personally believe that clove essential oil is far too strong to use around babies and if it were my baby I would use something else.