We all use toothpaste twice a day. So it makes sense that our toothpaste should be one of the things that we look at first when we’re making the switch to natural products.
Have you ever looked at the label of your favourite toothpaste? If you’re looking at a supermarket brand, you’re likely to find a list of synthetic antibacterials, detergents, chemical additives, and artificial flavours and sweeteners.
However, even toothpaste brands marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ may contain controversial ingredients like fluoride and carrageenan.
While you don’t usually swallow your toothpaste, your mouth is one of the most absorbent parts of your body. While you’re brushing with toothpaste or swishing mouthwash, some of the ingredients can enter your bloodstream through the tissues of your mouth.
Fortunately, you can get your pearly whites sparkling clean without having to compromise your health or the environment. As you’re scanning those natural toothpaste ingredient lists, here’s what you should look for and what you should avoid.
Toothpaste ingredients to avoid
Sulfates are foaming agents that you’ll find in things like shampoo, hand soap, and body wash. In toothpaste, they don’t serve much of a purpose other than creating the suds that we’ve come to associate with cleaning.
Although sulphates can come from natural sources like palm kernel or coconut oils, they can still be harmful to your body. In your mouth, they can irritate the soft tissue and create microscopic tears that grow into painful mouth ulcers. Sulfates may also contain toxic manufacturing impurities like carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide.
This is another toothpaste ingredient that gets that foaming action going. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to DEA may lead to hormone disruption, cancer, and organ system toxicity.
Like sulfates, DEA isn’t something you want to be brushing your teeth with. And though we’ve been conditioned to equate that sudsy sensation with ‘clean’, foam doesn’t really help make teeth any cleaner. What’s strange is that if I ever use mainstream toothpastes these days, they feel gross to me now – almost slimy with the foaming stuff.
Artificial sweeteners, colours, and flavours
More ingredients that have no dental health value whatsoever. FD&C Blue 1 and other synthetic colours can enter the bloodstream and accumulate in the body over time. Meanwhile, studies have linked aspartame, a common artificial sweetener in toothpaste, to a multitude of ailments, including headaches, seizures, dizziness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and behavioural and learning problems.
The US FDA banned triclosan from soaps and body washes in 2016 because manufacturers were unable to prove that it is safe for daily use over a long period of time. Strangely, they didn’t ban it in toothpastes. Triclosan has not been banned in Australia, so it can still be found in toothpastes and personal care products.
This antibacterial compound is linked to endocrine disruption, impaired cardiac function, allergies, and cancer. Studies have also found that the widespread use of triclosan may have contributed to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
This chemical gives conventional toothpaste its bright, white colour.
However, titanium dioxide nanoparticles may be able to penetrate your gums and enter your bloodstream. A recent study showed that oral exposure to titanium dioxide causes cancerous growths in rats, although whether this is applicable to humans is still open to debate.
Carrageenan, which comes from red seaweed, is a common thickening agent in toothpastes, dairy products, medicines, and pet food. Although it’s in some natural toothpastes, carrageenan may be problematic. Studies have found that it can cause inflammation in the intestines.
This is a tricky one. We’ve all been told that fluoride is necessary because it helps prevent cavities and tooth decay. However, this notion came under scrutiny after scientists found that the protective shield fluoride forms on our teeth is nowhere near thick enough to actually protect our enamel and is quickly removed by ordinary chewing.
Another problem is that fluoride is harmful when ingested. This is why toothpastes marketed for children are usually fluoride free. Fluoride can accumulate in our tissues and can cause fluoride toxicity, the signs of which include stomach pain, vomiting, skin rashes, bone deformities, and brain development problems in children.
If you do decide to choose a toothpaste with fluoride, look carefully at the other ingredients. There are good, natural toothpastes with fluoride available.
Natural toothpaste ingredients to look for
This highly porous substance effectively removes surface stains and helps prevent tooth decay by raising the mouth’s pH.
The lauric acid in coconut oil helps get rid of mouth bacteria and stops plaque buildup. Lauric acid also helps prevent and reduce gum inflammation.
Xylitol is a derivative of xylose, a sugar that comes from birch bark. Studies have shown that because xylitol can’t be metabolised by plaque bacteria, it effectively reduces plaque buildup.
Natural toothpastes often contain essential oils because they have powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and general cleansing properties. Essential oils of tea tree, neem, chamomile, clove, peppermint, spearmint, eucalyptus, myrrh, fennel, lemon, and cinnamon help freshen breath, remove plaque, and kill oral bacteria.
Want to to know which natural toothpaste is right for you? Check out our article on “14 Natural Toothpastes Tasted, Tried and Tested for You“.