The not so good ingredients found in natural toothpastes
We’ve been led to believe toothpastes that are marketed as “clean, natural and non-toxic ” are healthy and good for us. However, due to widespread greenwashing and healthwashing, you'll discover most are not.
Every ingredient in natural toothpaste should have real benefits with no downsides — and the stakes are high since a healthy mouth is critical to overall health and well-being.
- The FDA does not regulate the vast majority of ingredients used in personal care products including toothpaste. Since they only regulate a handful of “active ingredients” like synthetic fluoride, you need to do your homework, read labels and understand ingredients.
- Your oral mucosa (the inside lining of the mouth) can absorb more than 90 percent of what it comes in contact with. So, even if you don’t swallow your toothpaste, the chemicals and ingredients in it can enter your bloodstream. Make sure your mouth is only absorbing pure, 100% natural, ingredients beneficial to health and nothing potentially harmful.
- Many natural or naturally derived ingredients are bioengineered and GMO, like xylitol, glycerin, and sorbitol. If you avoid GMOs in your food it makes sense to avoid them in your toothpaste too.
Most toothpaste does little to help control the bacteria that can cause gum disease. Poor oral health, indicated by cavities, periodontal (gum) disease and inflammation, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimers and other systemic health issues. Many natural formulas often overlook ingredients that help control bad bacteria while balancing the oral microbiome.
- Most Dentists view toothpaste as a cosmetic. This is due to the fact that ingredients of 95% of all toothpastes do little or nothing to benefit oral health and merely focus on superficial qualities like flavor, sweetness, texture and foaming. Dentists often suggest toothpastes with “active” ingredients like xylitol, fluoride and nano-hydroxyapatite, but they may not understand their potential downsides to overall health. And while they are experts in dentistry, they aren’t experts in the myriad of chemicals and ingredients used in toothpaste and toothpowders.
- Greenwashing is pervasive in the marketplace. You have to be skeptical with all the marketing hype around brands claiming to be “natural and clean”. Are the ingredients they use actually natural? (naturally derived is not the same as natural). Do they have any associated health concerns? Do they benefit oral health?
The reality is, most natural toothpaste brands are made with some pretty bad ingredients.
Grab the toothpaste you’re using and read the label. There is a good chance you’ll discover that most of the ingredients aren’t necessary, don’t benefit oral health and may come with potential health concerns.
Here’s a summary of junk ingredients categories to look out for in natural toothpastes:
- Synthetic remineralizers — synthetics carry health risks.
- Preservatives — upset the oral microbiome.
- Foaming agents — upset the oral microbiome.
- Sweeteners & Sugar Alcohols — can cause digestive issues, attract plaque and reduce remineralization.
- Harsh abrasives — can damage enamel.
- Synthetic Flavorings & Colorants — cosmetic ingredients with potential health concerns.
Below we take a deeper dive and highlight some of the ingredients to look out for. (We assume you already avoid some of the more common nasty chemicals e.g. parabens, propylene glycol, Triclosan, SLS, artificial colors and artificial sweeteners).
SYNTHETIC TOOTH REMINERALIZERS
Good news! Our body is designed to remineralize teeth naturally so we don’t need synthetic remineralizers.
Synthetic Fluoride is a known neurotoxin and has been linked to cancer in several studies, and has also been shown to lower the IQ of children.
Nano-Hydroxyapatite (nHAP) is a synthetic version of hydroxyapatite that creates an artificial bioglass on the surface of the tooth. There is no long term safety data for nHap and the EU plans to ban it for use in oral cosmetics (toothpaste). In addition, studies that show effectiveness for remineralizing teeth use 10% nHAP, anything below this will not be as effective (it has not been studied).
Special note: on a product label, it may only say “Hydroxyapatite” — you won’t know if it is nano or natural unless it is somewhere on the packaging or website.
Synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to aid the remineralization process but are poorly utilized and may cause inflammation in the body. Also, natural vitamins contain many components required to produce their intended biologic effect that synthetic versions are missing — enzymes, co-enzymes, and co-factors. Read more: Nutri-Con - The Truth about Vitamins and Supplements.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A) are just a few synthetic vitamins added to toothpaste.
Toothpaste is normally made with water and needs a preservative to eliminate bacterial growth. Synthetic and naturally derived preservatives can upset the oral microbiome since they kill both bad bacteria AND good bacteria.
Sodium benzoate also known as potassium benzoate and benzoate, is billed as the safer alternative to parabens, but it is suspected to cause damage to mitochondrial DNA, and some researchers see a link with cancer, particularly when it combines with vitamin C or E to form benzene, a known carcinogen.
Sodium Gluconate is derived from GMO corn or GMO beets and there is evidence it could be harmful to your gut. Potassium Sorbate is derived from sorbic acid and is almost always synthetic and has also been linked to disrupting gut microbiome.
Otherwise known as surfactants, detergent or soap, foaming agents can upset the oral microbiome and have a drying effect. There is little to no data on the safety of naturally derived alternatives. Besides, you don’t need soap in your toothpaste! That would be like swallowing soap to clean your stomach.
Common foaming agents include many coconut-derived forms, including Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Potassium Cocoate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate (also popular in natural shampoos) and Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate.
SWEETENERS (SUGAR ALCOHOLS)
These are typically highly processed chemicals (even when “naturally derived”) and do nothing for oral health. Some, like glycerin, can attract plaque and reduce remineralization. They have also been linked to digestive issues and disrupting the gut biome. In particular, sugar alcohols should not be used by anyone with Diabetes or IBS. Several are also typically made from GMO corn.
The oral care industry uses sweeteners to deliver that sweet taste consumers have been programmed to crave and many natural toothpaste brands use 3 or 4 types of sweeteners. This is ridiculous — toothpaste is not supposed to be candy!
Common Sugar alcohols include:
Sorbitol is the most popular in toothpaste since it also acts as a solvent.
Erythritol is the lowest in calories.
Xylitol is chemically derived from plant fibers typically from GMO beets or corn (some toothpaste brands use birch) and has been shown to be effective against some bacteria including ones that cause cavities.
The length of time teeth are exposed to Xylitol is key to its effectiveness in reducing bacteria. That is why most studies showing some evidence of efficacy in cavity prevention are based on chewing gum. Is the 2 minutes of time people use to brush their teeth, enough time to have a positive effect?
Xylitol is a double-edged sword — while it is most effective the longer it is used (studies cite 20 minutes of chewing gum), gut issues increase the longer you chew!
Glycerin, or glycerol (vegetable) is derived from vegetable oils (typically GMO, check the label) and a byproduct of soap production. Glycerin leaves a coating on the teeth that inhibits the natural process of remineralization and since it is a magnet for plaque, may encourage the formation of cavities.
Unfortunately it is used in high quantities in sensitive toothpaste formulas because it coats teeth, reducing sensitivity.
Toothpaste manufacturers love it because it not only creates a cosmetic slippery feeling on teeth, it also has a pleasant sweetness and acts as a preservative.
Stevia is not a sugar alcohol. Some studies have shown it could disrupt hormones when consumed in large quantities. If it is listed on a label “Stevia” it is likely the highly processed form.
Stevia from the herb Stevia rebaudiana is incredibly sweet even in tiny quantities. And while it can be very natural (as a low temp dried herb powder or high quality extract) often what is used in industry is heavily processed and not very natural at all.
Due to its sweetness and distinct aftertaste many find its flavor off-putting.
You do not need harsh abrasives to clean your teeth and with continued use they can damage your enamel. Used daily they can even make teeth appear more yellow as the enamel wears out. As a guide, most holistic dentists recommend using a toothpaste with an RDA (Relative Dentin Abrasivity) of no higher than 100.
Hydrated Silica (silicon dioxide) or Silica is a component of sand. Over time, it can scratch and damage your tooth enamel. This is often paired with calcium carbonate which can help minimize the abrasiveness.
Charcoal can be used occasionally to polish teeth, but should not be used every day. In addition, charcoal grabs everything — the good and the bad bacteria, along with beneficial nutrients which can upset the oral microbiome.
Charcoal is made by burning a carbon source, like coal, wood or coconut and may contain impurities — look for pure sources, like bamboo or coconut.
GUMS, THICKENING AGENTS, FILLERS & SOLVENTS
These cosmetic ingredients in toothpaste create body, smoothness and a good mouth feel. They are not necessary for oral health.
Carrageenan Evidence from animal studies suggests that consumption could lead to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors.
Cellulose Gum and Xanthan Gum are other popular fillers. Propanediol is a solvent derived from GMO corn or petroleum. In toothpaste it acts as a solvent for sweeteners, like sorbitol, as well as a humectant.
FLAVORS AND COLORANTS
These are cosmetic and do nothing for oral health. Most flavors and colors are targeted to kids, but they appear in adult toothpaste too. Look out for any ingredient with the word “flavor” in it (eg. “mint flavor”).
A “natural flavor” can contain hundreds of different chemicals and are a red flag for hidden toxic ingredients. This article in Medium says it best — ”The truth is, as long as at least 80% of the flavor comes from a “naturally occurring” source, companies can list it as “natural,” according to Code of Federal Regulations. The remaining 20% of the flavor? That can be whatever the flavor company wants to add in, artificial or otherwise.”
Titanium Dioxide is used in toothpaste (typically whitening toothpaste) to make it bright white. It provides no benefit for oral health. In 2021 it was banned by the EU as a food additive due to increasing health concerns that it may bioaccumulate in the body. Here is more from a recent Skittles lawsuit.
If true health is your goal, then choose your products and ingredients wisely. Here are a few tips:
Don’t assume it is “natural” and healthy based on the marketing - sometimes a brand will only show you what they want you to see like the “key ingredients”. Look at ALL of the ingredients.
The top 3 ingredients on a label make up the majority of the product, so make sure they are beneficial to oral health. Many “natural” toothpastes include a sweetener in the top 3 (like sorbitol or glycerin). Yuck!
Look for products with 100% natural ingredients — your body will recognize these and utilize their healing properties. Akamai Mineral Toothpowder is a great option to consider😁!
Avoid all synthetics AND naturally derived ingredients — just say no to any ingredient you don’t understand and that is actually a chemical made in a lab. Your body will recognize what is unnatural, and create an immune response that can contribute to chronic inflammation.
- Find out the source and quality of natural ingredients. Is it organic? GMO? How was it processed? Where did it come from? If it is a natural vitamin or mineral, the source should be included otherwise it is likely synthetic.
DISCLAIMER: *These statements have not been verified by the FDA. This product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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