What is toothpaste made of and are the toothpaste ingredients in most brands harmful? We look at these questions, inspect ingredients, & offer alternatives.
Did you know that the FDA considers toothpaste as a cosmetic product and a drug, not as a food?
I understand the rationale, we’re not supposed to be eating our toothpaste. But toothpaste goes in your mouth, so small amounts often trickle down the throat each time you brush.
Safety testing for cosmetic products is lax compared to food products – AND – many cosmetic products are known to contain harmful ingredients. This allows the cosmetic industry to fill our toothpaste with whatever ingredients look good, smell good, and taste good. Never mind their effects on our health!
The list of toothpaste ingredients in commercial toothpaste is a little frightening, to say the least. On the labels of many mainstream brands, you’re likely to find one or more of the following ingredients:
This is an antibacterial agent and preservative used in some toothpaste. To explain, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database, Triclosan has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor, a skin irritant, and can cause allergic reactions in some cases.
Aspartame and Saccharin
These are artificial sweeteners that often show up in toothpaste formulas. Due to the fact that each has been linked to some serious health problems they should be avoided altogether.
A liquid that keeps the other toothpaste ingredients from drying out, sorbitol has laxative effects that can cause diarrhea if too much is swallowed.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
SLS is a foaming agent and detergent commercial toothpaste brands add to make it foamy. This ingredient is dangerous because the production of SLS results in contamination with a carcinogenic by-product. Studies on SLS have shown it can have many detrimental effects on the body. I like my suds, but not at the expense of my overall health.
FD&C Blue Dye No. 2
That fun color stripe in your toothpaste ingredients is most likely from a synthetic dye. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends avoiding these artificial dyes in personal care products because of the adverse impact they can have, including hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and even cancer (in animal studies).
This ingredient in toothpaste deserves the attention of an entire article, but putting it simply, fluoride is a neurotoxin. It is an ingredient in our toothpaste (and our municipal water supplies). And it alters the body when we use it. Too much fluoride can have some serious effects on the body including, but not limited to, fluorosis. You can define fluorosis as the spots and discoloration on teeth. In fact, the FDA now requires all manufacturers to put a poison warning on all fluoride toothpaste. I’m serious, go look at your toothpaste label.
The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment. Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment.
To learn more about the fluoride issue check out the following:
- Fluoride Alert – a network seeking to educate the public on the true dangers of fluoride.
- The Fluoride Deception – an eye-opening video highlighting information from the book, The Fluoride Deception.
Avoiding Toxic Toothpaste Ingredients
If you’re not willing to totally give up store-bought toothpaste, there are many natural brands to consider. Specifically, they formulate their toothpaste without ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners, and fluoride. You can find these brands in health food stores or even larger grocery chains. Be ready for a heftier price tag, a good natural toothpaste often costs more than $5 and usually comes in a smaller tube.
However, be aware that some of the natural brands you may have trusted in the past are being bought out by giant companies with lower standards. This makes me wonder what questionable toothpaste ingredients they will try to sneak into their “natural” formulas. Not that they have control over the ingredients, including cheaper ingredients above that keep overall costs down.
The cosmetics industry, like the food industry, is becoming more sophisticated at the art of naming ingredients. You may not notice some of the toxic ingredients on the packaging anymore. Usually, that’s because they now use other names to describe the same ingredient. For example, sodium lauryl sulfate may also be called sodium dodecyl sulfate, lauryl sodium sulfate, sodium n-dodecyl sulfate, or lauryl sulphate sodium salt. This is a game changer. To explain, we need to be savvier and more aware of all the pseudonyms for ingredients.
The best way to avoid harmful toothpaste ingredients is to stay away from commercial toothpaste. Homemade toothpaste is one of the easiest DIY projects you can do.
Cleaning Your Teeth Naturally
Gentle brushing with a soft toothbrush and a few safe toothpaste ingredients can keep your teeth and body healthier than brushing with toxic toothpaste. There are many different combinations of natural ingredients you can use to clean your teeth.
Real Sea Salt
According to Dentist Robert Nara, in his book, How to Become Dentally Self Sufficient, using real sea salt in your oral hygiene routine can treat or prevent most tooth and gum issues. Real sea salt contains a lot of trace minerals, many of which your teeth need to stay strong. Direct application of these minerals can benefit teeth and gums. Regular table salt does not work in the same manner and is not recommended for brushing. Find pure sea salt we recommend here.
Baking soda should be one of your natural toothpaste ingredients. It is a wonderful natural product for polishing teeth, removing stains, and freshening breath.
Check out our simple recipe for baking soda toothpaste.
Contrary to what many of us have been taught, baking soda is a gentle product for teeth. According to the RDS Values chart – an index of the abrasiveness of common toothpaste – straight baking soda is far less abrasive than most commercial toothpaste. However, if baking soda causes gum or tooth sensitivity for you, choose another natural product for brushing.
I love using coconut oil for brushing my teeth. You can mix a little baking soda with coconut oil to form a paste for brushing. The texture is smooth like commercial toothpaste you may be used to, and coconut oil is naturally antibacterial. Your mouth will feel squeaky clean after brushing and you can be confident you’re not adding toxins to your body. Find high-quality coconut oil we recommend here.
Additionally, there are many herbs that can be incorporated into your brushing routine that have positive effects on your teeth and gums. In the book Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel, herbs are listed as a great way to heal teeth and gums. “While tooth liquid products clean the teeth, products made with herbs can heal the teeth and gums in a different way. Herbs can build, pull out toxins, and nourish.”
Tooth Powder Recipe Coming Soon
Check out our favorite recipe for herbal tooth powder. If you’re not familiar with tooth powder, it cleans just as well (or better) than toothpaste, and is a homemade product with a long shelf life – thanks to the absence of liquid.
Have you ever thought about toothpaste ingredients?
- Is It a Cosmetic, a Drug, or Both? (Or Is It Soap?). FDA.gov. 8-2018.
- Anna L. Choi. Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives. 10-2012.
photo credit: bradleypjohnson