Anesthetic gel made from a rare plant found deep in the Peruvian rainforest has been found to be so potent that it could potentially replace the uncomfortable anesthetic injections used prior to dental procedures — and provide a natural remedy for aching teeth, scientists say.
The remarkable painkilling properties of the Acmella oleracea plant, commonly referred to as Spilanthes Extract, have been used for centuries if not millennia by Incas to treat toothache, ulcers, abscesses and to even clean teeth.
Indigenous tribes revealed the secrets of the plant to Cambridge University researcher Dr. Françoise Barbira Freedman, who has spent more than 30 years visiting and living with the Keshwa Lamas tribe of Peru. Freedman said the plant could literally transform western dental practice.
Freedman became the first westerner to be accepted into the secretive society in 1975. During one of her trips to the rainforest, she suffered severe pain in her wisdom teeth. She was given the remedy by the tribe‘s medicine men and the pain subsided “immediately,” she said.
Years later, she was asked to provide Cambridge with some examples of the remedy. She had listed several plants that were included in the remedy with the oleracea plant being listed at the bottom. For some reason the list got turned around and oleracea was the first on the list. Once back in the UK, oleracea was tested first and immediately proved successful.
She said the plant, which works by blocking nerve endings to provide a numbing effect that can last for an hour or more, had proved successful in early stage clinical trials with no apparent side effects. She received positive feedback from patients on the benefits of usage.
The gel was considered more efficient than the standard anesthetic used when patients with gum disease need pain relief. The effects of the oleracea plant lasted longer, and patients were more likely to attend follow-up appointments.
In informal tests, the plant extract also helped treat mouth ulcers and ease pain due caused by dentures and braces.
Freedman is hoping to bring the remedy to market under her company, Ampika Ltd., a spin-off of the university’s commercial arm Cambridge Enterprise, by as early as 2014 as a natural alternative to synthetic painkillers.
She said she plans to share any profits from the sale of the gel with the Keshwa Lamas community in Peru.
“This treatment for toothache means we could be looking at the end of some injections in the dentist’s surgery,” she told The Telegraph. “We’ve had really clear results from tests so far, particularly for procedures such as scaling and polishing, and there are many other potential applications.”
These range from soothing the pain of teething babies to relieving irritable bowel syndrome. “We think people prefer to use natural products and this is particularly the case for baby teething, for which, to my knowledge, there is no clinically tested natural alternative,” she added.
Researchers at Ampika plan to publish the trial results in an international dental journal and conduct further tests in several countries. They also want to refine the formula to develop a higher strength and longer-lasting product.
A. oleracea is a yellow flowering herb which originates from the Peruvian Amazon and was also brought to southern Asia by sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries under the name “toothache plant.”