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Not So Good Ingredients in Natural Toothpaste

As a savvy, health conscious individual, you probably already use a natural toothpaste, free of fluoride and obvious nasties (parabens, propylene glycol, Triclosan, SLS/SLES, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, etc.), and you may be making assumptions about how healthy it is. But consider this:

  • Like all other personal care products, toothpaste ingredients are not regulated, only fluoride, since it is a poison that can accumulate in your tissues and bones. This means, you need to do your homework.
  • Your oral mucosa (the inside lining of your mouth) can absorb more than 90 percent of what it comes in contact with. So, even if you don’t swallow your toothpaste, it is not benign. Make sure your mouth is absorbing beneficial ingredients, like minerals, nothing potentially harmful.
  • Many natural or naturally derived ingredients are bioengineered and GMO, like xylitol, glycerin, citric acid and sorbitol. If you avoid GMOs in your food it makes sense to avoid them in your toothpaste too.
  • Poor oral health, indicated by periodontal (gum) disease and inflammation, is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other systemic health issues. Most toothpastes do little to help control the bacteria that causes gum disease. Commercial brands use Triclosan that wipes out all bacteria, including the good ones, while natural formulas sometimes overlook any ingredients that address this specific issue. While toothpaste is not meant to heal gum disease, it can certainly help prevent it.
  • Most Dentists view toothpaste as a cosmetic. Brands market superficial benefits consumers have been trained to expect from toothpaste, like mouth feel (glycerin for slickness, gums for texture and surfactants for foaming), zesty fresh flavor for bad breath (menthols or artificial flavors), tooth whitening - the whiter the better (hydrated silica or other rough abrasives) and a pleasing color when it hits the toothbrush (white or even red, blue or green). Everyone expects some level of cavity prevention. From a dentist’s perspective, this is all backwards. If you ask a Holistic dentist what is most important to oral health, they won’t mention toothpaste, they will likely answer: 1) brush correctly, and often, 2) floss every day , 3) take trace minerals. 

Ingredients in toothpaste should have real benefits with no downsides —a healthy mouth is critical to overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, many natural brands include some not so good ingredients, such as:

  • Surfactants (yes, soap) – Some leading “natural” toothpastes still contain SLS/SLES (a carpet bomb to your biome and tainted with harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process) while other popular brands use coconut-derived substitutes, which are not safe to swallow. They include sodium coco-sulfate, sodium cocoyl glutamate, potassium cocoate, and sodium methyl cocoyl taurate. There is little or no data on the safety of these alternatives, so it is probably better to avoid them. Besides, you don’t need soap in your toothpaste.
  • Preservatives  - Sodium benzoate also known as potassium benzoate and benzoate, which is billed as the safer alternative to parabens, 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. Citric acid is a better natural alternative, but it is likely GMO unless otherwise stated. Some toothpastes, like Akamai Mineral Toothpaste use essential oils and clay to keep mold and bad bacteria at bay.
  • Carrageenan – Derived from seaweed, carrageenan is a common thickening agent in toothpaste that helps improve the texture and reduce the water content. Animal studies suggest that consumption leads to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors. While adults are unlikely to swallow their toothpaste, when it comes to kids’ toothpaste best to steer clear. This ingredient, along with gums that provide a similar function, offers no benefits to oral health.
  • Glycerin – A byproduct of soap production, glycerin creates a coating on the teeth, which inhibits the natural process of remineralization.  The coating, which provides the slippery feel, creates a barrier between the tooth surface and saliva, which normally bathes teeth in the minerals that rebuild tooth enamel while keeping our teeth strong and healthy. It is also typically produced from GMO vegetable oils and unnecessary as a toothpaste ingredient.
  • Hydrated Silica – Used to help remove debris and stains, this commonly used abrasive is a component of sand. Over time, it can scratch and damage your tooth enamel and may prevent tooth remineralization by changing your mouth’s acidic balance. There are other, less abrasive alternatives, like clays and carbonates that gently polish without compromising enamel.

If you’re living a healthy life style, choose a healthy toothpaste. High quality ingredients like clay, essential oils, coq10, trace minerals, sea salt, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), coconut oil, aloe, neem, folate and others may cost a little more, but good oral health is worth it.

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