Brushing your teeth involves polishing those pearly whites twice a day, two minutes at a time. But have you paused to think about the kinds of chemicals you’re putting in your mouth when you do?
Conventional toothpastes are often loaded with additives. As an example, the Food and Drug Administration banned germ-killing triclosan from soaps, but you can still find it in many toothpastes, despite studies in animals showing it can disrupt reproduction and metabolism. Sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent, can wear away at the mouth’s protective lining, causing irritation and increasing canker sore risk.
As more consumers become aware of ingredients in personal care products, the demand for alternatives is growing. Some toothpastes use more natural products, everything from activated charcoal to xylitol, and both studies and dentists are backing their benefits.
The point of brushing lies in removing plaque, a sticky bacterial film that can break down tooth enamel, irritate gums and cause infections. If you had perfect technique, you could remove this gunk by brushing and flossing without toothpaste, explains Glennis Katzmark, DDS, of Craig S. Armstrong DDS in Houston. But this isn’t something Katzmark recommends, as it’s rare for someone to be a perfect brusher.
Aside from giving your mouth a fresh and clean feel and helping whiten your teeth, toothpastes can help also boost your brushing sessions to make them more effective.
“Toothpastes work by abrading, or scrubbing away, the food sources and bacteria on a regular basis,” explains Katzmark. “Most natural toothpastes have some abrasive properties and so would be fine for that purpose.” That’s especially crucial if you eat foods with high sugar content.
The presence of fluoride, which proponents say can help fight cavities, in toothpastes is controversial. Some natural toothpastes contain it; some do not. The American Dental Association won’t give its Seal of Acceptance to any toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride. However, a small niche of holistic dentists have raised neurodevelopmental concerns about fluoridated water and toothpastes.
Katzmark, though, points out that fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. She says that when added to toothpaste, fluoride works as a cavity blocker early in the decay process because it will stick to the affected part of the tooth and become incorporated into the enamel. “Another benefit to fluoride is that it actually inhibits the bacteria from creating acids in the first place,” Katzmark adds.
Naturally Clean Teeth
Natural toothpastes can promote oral health by reducing harmful bacteria. Ingredients such as mint can freshen breath, while hydrated silica can whiten teeth. Common ingredients include:
Activated charcoal—Charcoal absorbs impurities, explains Philip Gallegos, DDS, of Gallegos Family Dentistry in Albuquerque. “It can effectively remove the plaque and surface stains caused by tea, coffee and red wine,” he says. He recommends using charcoal toothpaste just once a week because it can be abrasive and you don’t want to damage enamel, which would make your teeth susceptible to decay.
Baking soda—It can neutralize harmful acids that may cause gum disease and cavities, and also help remove stains, says Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, founder of Implants and Gumcare in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “A smooth, clean surface keeps bacteria at bay, while a rough surface accumulates bacteria,” he explains.
Coconut oil—Researchers have found that this popular kitchen and skincare ingredient is effective in reducing plaque and preventing gingivitis, or gum disease.
Neem—Neem bark and leaf extract can help prevent cavities and gum problems, according to a study in Pharmacognosy Review. Mouthwash that contains this Indian herb can also be helpful in cases of tooth decay and oral infections, and in prevention of bleeding and sore gums, according to the researchers.
Silver—Nanoparticles of this precious metal have shown antibacterial properties, reducing risk of gum disease and bad breath.
Tea tree oil—A study of herbal toothpastes that appeared in the Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry found that tea tree oil is effective in removing plaque.
Xylitol—It can prevent tooth decay and also helps promote saliva production, which combats dry mouth, says Vadivel.
Sayed Ibrahim, PhD, chief executive officer of SprinJene, which makes natural oral health products, suggests giving new toothpastes two-week trials so you can observe how they affect your oral health. “Don’t just go for the flavor or taste,” he advises, noting that some natural toothpastes can feel or taste different than conventional varieties.
If you’re missing the taste of your traditional toothpaste, you could always use a drop of peppermint essential oil to your toothbrush. That way, you get that minty flavor without the artificial sweeteners.
These toothpaste brands include natural ingredients and no fluoride.
My Magic Mud
My Magic Mud toothpaste uses an ingredient we are seeing in increasing numbers of health and beauty products: activated charcoal. My Magic Mud contains no fluoride, SLS or glycerine, and Carbon & Clay Company, which owns My Magic Mud, offers extensive clinically verified results that can be found on its website. The company has also hired a third-party testing lab to ensure the products contain no GMOs. All ingredients are either inorganic materials, such as activated charcoal and bentonite clay, or certified organic products, such as the essential oils derived from plants used for flavor the toothpaste, which also comes in powder form. Visit mymagicmud.com.
Earthpaste toothpaste contains no glycerin, fluoride, foaming agents, or coloring. Instead it contains fice ingredients all from the earth: Redmond Clay, Real Salt, purified water, essential oils and xylitol, the first two ingredients brands of Earthpaste maker Redmond Trading Co. Its Unsweetened Spearmint Earthpaste flavor contains no xylitol. Food Grade Redmond Clay is a polishing cleanser that has been long used to promote digestive health, and high pH of Redmond Clay helps counteract acidic levels in the mouth where cavities are formed. Its xylitol, from non-GMO birch and corn to help give Earthpaste its flavor and to promote healthy teeth, helps maintain a neutral pH level in the mouth and can help prevent bacteria from sticking to teeth. Earthpaste is also in powder form. Visit earthpaste.com.
The Dirt all-natural toothpaste combines the antibacterial properties of MCT oil, or fractionated coconut oil, with the naturally detoxifying and cleansing benefits of bentonite clay, which is firm enough to remove plaque from teeth but soft enough not to damage enamel. The food-grade essential oils used impart flavor, and provide antiseptic and antibacterial benefits. The Dirt Coconut Toothpaste is free of flouride, SLS, paraben and glycerine. The Dirt is also available in powder form. Visit givemethedirt.com.