is one of those things we can overlook even when we are trying to be our healthiest. We brush and floss twice a day (or at least intend to), but is there more we should know? Many of us know to avoid sodium lauryl sulfate and fluoride, but our toothpaste may still be compromised with artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. And even if we successfully avoid these toxic chemicals, our toothpaste may still contain harsh abrasives and film-forming glycerin, interfering with the health of our teeth. There’s definitely a lot to know about the best ways to care for our teeth and gums.
I’ve gathered together some of the WORST AND BEST ingredients in toothpastes along with a couple simple and wonderful recipes you can try at home.
The Worst of the Worst
When the toothpaste label reads, “Do not swallow, that’s a big RED flag!
Fluoride is simply toxic. Period. Sodium fluoride is classified as toxic by both inhalation and ingestion. In high enough doses, it has been shown to affect the heart and circulatory system. The lethal dose for a 150 pound human is estimated to be approximately 5 to 10 grams.Researchers have linked it to cancer, but it is still allowed in many toothpastes and often recommended by dentists! It is especially dangerous for young children who tend to swallow the paste after brushing. Many toothpastes contain enough fluoride in a 4 oz tube to kill a small child! This is why many toothpaste manufacturers include a warning on their labels “Do not swallow. Not for use by children under the age of 6 years.” It has also been shown that Fluorosis (fluoride poisoning) can result in darkened or mottled teeth, erosion of enamel, compromised bone structure and a host of other problems including learning disabilities, kidney disease and brain lesions. The debate as to whether or not fluoride helps prevent cavities is moot given its potential and very real dangers.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a detergent, emulsifier and foaming agent. It’s powerful stripping action makes it popular in car “soap”, engine degreasers and garage floor cleaners. Unfortunately, it can also degenerate cell membranes, change genetic information in cells and damage the immune system. It is reported to cause eye irritation, skin rashes, hair loss, dandruff and allergic reactions. It penetrates your eyes, brain, liver and even worse, its effects are cumulative. Other detergents such as sodium laureth sulfate, while not as harsh as the previous type, were never meant to be ingested. Even if you don’t swallow any of the paste (which is very difficult to do) up to 90% of these additives will still be absorbed by the mucous membranes in your mouth. Keep reading and you’ll learn about healthful alternatives to these harsh detergents.
Artificial Sweeteners such as Splenda, or sucralose, was never proven safe for human consumption; it remains a public health experiment! The FDA approved it after a mere 4 day trial where only 23 adults actually ingested it. Other studies were done on animals and revealed complications such as a decrease in red blood cells, increased male infertility, an increase in spontaneous abortions as well as a 23% increase in death. Another dangerous sweetener that you are probably familiar with is sodium saccharin from the hazardous Aspartame family. Saccharin is commonly manufactured by combining anthranilic acid (used among other things as a corrosive agent for metal) with nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and ammonia. Yes, that’s right. Chlorine and ammonia. Before 2001, any product containing saccharin required a cancer warning label. This has since been lifted after some industry testing determined that saccharin only caused bladder and other cancers in rats. Many researchers, however, believe that in sufficient doses, saccharin is also a human carcinogen. If you’d like a bit of sweetness, opt instead for stevia or xylitol.
FD & C, Blue No. 1 + 2 are often used to dye toothpastes blue for the illusion of “fresh and clean.” These coal tar (petroleum) derivatives have been known to trigger severe allergic reactions, asthma attacks and headaches in addition to being carcinogens that interfere with brain function. These toxic dyes have been known to produce malignant tumors at the site of injection and by ingestion in rats. Even though toothpaste is technically not swallowed, the mucous membrane in the mouth have an absorption rate over 90 %, so these chemicals do find their way into your bloodstream! Blue doesn’t really make your toothpaste more fun and is definitely not worth the risk!
Triclosan is a very scary antimicrobial found in many personal care and household products. Evidence has shown that this chemical inhibits muscle function in mice and fish from usage levels comparable to that of regular household use! Other potential side effects include abnormalities with the endocrine system, birth defects and a weakening of the immune system. Triclosan safety is currently under review by the FDA and Health Canada. Opt instead for the natural cleaning ability of pure soap and clay, and the antibacterial action of essential oils. Even if you are not experiencing dramatic “side effects,” these additives still have a negative effect, whether you notice or not.)
Not Toxic, but Not Healthy Either.
Glycerin is a sweet syrupy trihydroxy alcohol created by the saponification of fats and oils and a byproduct of soapmaking. It’s used in almost all toothpastes to keep the paste pliable so that is can easily squeeze from the tube…. and that’s pretty much the only reason it’s there! While not a toxic ingredient, glycerin causes dehydration of the mouth and interferes with the natural and necessary re-mineralization of the teeth. Glycerin is a humectant, absorbing water from the atmosphere. If some was left in the open, it would absorb water from the surrounding air until the liquid was eventually 20% water. This is great for lotions and creams, where water from the environment is drawn to the skin to keep it hydrated. It can cause dehydration, however, when there is not sufficient moisture to draw from, such as in the desert or inside the mouth! In his book, Good Teeth From Birth to Death, Dr. Gerard F. Judd, Ph.D., he states, “Reenamelization of the teeth occurs when they are clean. All toothpastes make a barrier of glycerine on the teeth which would require 20 rinses to get it off.” While glycerin is not dangerous to ingest, it does interfere with our saliva’s natural function of re-mineralizing the enamel and therefore should not be in toothpaste.
Abrasives such as calcium carbonate and baking soda can be used periodically to clean teeth of stains, but overuse (meaning daily use) can abrade delicate gum tissue. It’s important to apply just a small amount of baking soda with a small cloth or brush only to the tooth surface, not the gums. (To me, baking soda tastes horrible. I’d rather use a fine mesh clay to remove stains and whiten my teeth.) Another similar problem is the overuse of sea salt. While a small amount can be useful to prevent and deal with infections, salt can negatively affect oral health by dehydrating our mouth and gum tissues. It’s important to remember that just because a little of something can be good, more or more often is not always better!
Soap. Yep, you read that correctly! With soap, all oils are washed off the teeth, the gums are disinfected and the bacteria are eliminated. The teeth are then ready for the necessary daily re-enamelization with calcium and phosphate in the diet. Research has shown that teeth brushed with pure soap are far cleaner than those brushed with commercial pastes (even the natural ones) which coat the teeth with glycerin, preventing a thorough cleaning and and interfering with the natural and necessary re-mineralization process. Make sure you use real bar or liquid soap instead of pseudo-soap “cleansing bars,” which are nothing more than detergent in a solid form.
Xylitol has been shown to inhibit plaque formation, improve breath odor, retard loss of tooth enamel, reduce infections in the mouth and relieve dry mouth. It’s safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics and xylitol doesn’t encourage growth of yeast, including Candida Albicans. In contrast to ordinary sugar, xylitol increases the absorption of B-vitamins and calcium. Xylitol has also been shown to have the opposite effect of sugar on oral health as it is non-fermentable and therefore cannot be converted to acids by oral bacteria, helping to restore a proper alkaline/acid balance in the mouth. This alkaline environment is inhospitable to all the destructive bacteria, especially the worst variety, Streptococcus mutans. In addition, Xylitol satisfies our desire for a bit of sweet and tastes pretty good. (I like to blend xylitol with stevia and/or monk fruit when making deserts.)
Zeolite and Pyrophyllite are special indeed! Most clays are formed from the volcanic ash that has fallen from the atmosphere and is collected as sediment. Over time, plant and animal remains as well as other forms of organic and inorganic material add to the mix and decompose to form organic clays such as bentonite, montmorillonite, illite or French Green. Zeolite and Pyrophyllite (Sacred Clay) are quite different. They were formed underground and seem to have retained their electromagnetic (detox) properties to a greater degree compared to the lava ash clays. Zeolite and clays work at the cellular level by trapping heavy metals and toxins and safely removing them from the body. Zeolite is very effective in removing radiation, as shown in the cleanup after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The people showed a 30% reduction in radioactive isotopes after the very first application of Zeolite! Continued use demonstrated increased benefits.
In the book Beyond Antibiotics, Michael Schmidt devotes an entire chapter to the antimicrobial efficacy of essential oils, and states, “One of the advantages essential oils have over antibiotics is that bacteria do not develop resistance to essential oils. Many essential oils exert their antibacterial effect by interfering with the bacteria’s ability to breathe. On the other hand, antibiotics interfere with the life cycle, or metabolism of, bacteria, but since bacteria are very crafty creatures, they change their chemistry and genes, which makes the antibiotic less effective the next time it is used. As a result, new generations of antibiotics will need to be developed to stay ahead of these organisms.” Additionally says Schmidt, “another advantage to essential oils is that some actually stimulate immune function.” Pure essential oils address the causes of a compromised immune system, including destructive bacterial overgrowth, viral loads, chronic inflammation and a congested lymph system without causing antibiotic resistance. The very small molecular size and distinctive structure allows them to penetrate the gums and benefit the immune system, sending nutrients to the blood vessels and molecules, stimulating the dentine, nerves and roots of the teeth while improving the circulation of the blood and lymph. Essential oils are also potent antioxidants. Clove and cinnamon are very high in these ORAC ratings, and are impressive in eliminating bacteria. Some essential oils reduce inflammation, while others have an antibacterial effect or an antiseptic one. Many essential oils contain a combination of these properties. The wonders of essential oils never cease to amaze me!
Recipes for Healthy Teeth + Gums
Clay Toothpaste with Spice Infusion.
Many types of clay will make a wonderful clay toothpastes. Many folks use bentonite or Redmond clays, but I prefer Zeolite (or pyrophyllite clay) as described above for its ultra smooth texture and amazing detox properties. You’ll need: 3 cups water, 1 tablespoon stevia herb, 1 1/2 cups cinnamon sticks, 4 tablespoons whole cloves, 1 – 1 1/2 cups zeolite or desired clay. Make sure the clay feels as smooth as a body powder and not at all gritty so that it will not harm your teeth. First, mix the first four ingredients in a medium saucepan, and boil 30 minutes. While that’s heating, place 1 cup of clay into a glass bowl. It’s important to use a glass bowl and wooden spoon because when the clay gets wet, it sets up an electromagnetic reaction which will absorb the particles inside of a metal bowl, or the toxins out of a plastic one. Next, remove saucepan from heat and strain off herbs, catching the liquid in a glass bowl. Pour this liquid mixture into the bowl of clay, and whisk briskly until a smooth paste forms. Continue adding the remainder of clay until the desired consistency is reached. Store in an airtight glass container and avoid any contact with metals. Brush once a day with one of the pastes and once with a pure liquid or bar soap.
That’s it! You’ve just made natural, organic toothpaste and you can throw out your old tube of toothpaste if it contains any of the aforementioned ingredients to avoid. I’d LOVE to hear about your amazing results!
Healthy Gum Oil.
For this recipe, make sure you use theraputic grade essential oils. In a vial with a dropper, combine 20 drops ceylon cinnamon bark (not to be confused with the cheaper and less effective cassia), 10 drops peppermint, 3-5 drops tea tree, 3-5 drops clove, 3-5 drops lavender and 1-2 drops oregano. Use just one drop of this essential oil blend with your toothpaste, along the length of your dental floss to effectively bring the powers of essential oils between your teeth and/or in a ounce or two of water as a powerful rinse.
Using oil in your mouth to improve oral health as well as your overall well-being is known as “oil pulling.” It has been touted to eliminate halitosis and tooth problems as well as backaches and chronic disease. All that is needed is a teaspoon of oil (I prefer organic sesame). Simply swish, or “pull” the oil through your teeth and around your mouth for 2-10 minutes and then spit and rinse. This would be a good time to use your Healthy Gum Oil and clay toothpaste:)
Hopefully it’s clear that that there’s much more to healthy teeth and gums than picking up a tube of toothpaste from the local grocery or health food store and remembering to floss and brush twice a day. What we use, and more importantly, what we don’t use on a daily basis can significantly affect us, for better or worse. Here’s to making educated choices about our teeth and our health!
(and if you’d rather not make your own, we offer a fabulous clay “detox toothpaste,” “gum drops” oil, and “dazzle” activated charcoal and calcium whitener.)
Until next time,