For years, I’ve been plagued with gum recession. I’ve always brushed too hard, and my dentist finally gave me the bad news many years ago. My teeth were highly sensitive. I couldn’t eat anything gritty, like chocolate or sometimes peanut butter, without it hurting….even brushing with cold water hurt. I switched my toothbrush and toothpaste per his request. He had me go to Sensodyne toothpaste because it had potassium nitrate in it, which helps with the gum sensitivity I was experiencing. Personally I had never given a second thought to my toothpaste. Yes there were always dozens on the store shelves to choose from, but I figured they were all pretty much the same….except different flavors, and some making claims to whiten teeth, etc. However, this whole potassium thing sparked a bit of an interest. What ELSE is in toothpaste?
All I had ever looked at on a label was the active ingredient list. However, that’s not the only important thing to look at. That list is just what’s responsible for the claims that are being marketed. It doesn’t mean that’s all you’re exposed to.
Here are four ingredients commonly found in toothpaste that you’re better off avoiding:
Fluoride – There’s a lot of controversy over fluoride, both the safety and efficacy. For years, decades even, it’s been praised at reducing dental cavities which is why it started being added to our drinking water. However, there’s a lot of damage that can be done when fluoride is swallowed, a particular concern for children because much of their toothpaste gets swallowed. (Sadly, there’s no real way to avoid it if it’s in your drinking water without a special filter.) Swallowing too much fluoride can lead to things like dental fluorosis, which is a disfiguration of the tooth enamel that looks like white spots on the teeth in mild conditions to dark brown staining or pitting in more severe conditions. You may be thinking, “Well I’m an adult and I don’t swallow my toothpaste, so what’s the problem here?” Fluoride is a toxin that builds up in our bodies over time and can have drastic effects on other systems like our endocrine systems (think thyroid disorders as fluoride interrupts the thyroid’s ability to use iodine which is necessary for those thyroid hormones to properly function) or cognitive functions (like dementia), as well as a whole list of other conditions from bone fractures and arthritis to damaged sperm and infertility. To learn more about the effects of fluoride, head over to the Fluoride Action Network.
Carrageenan – Carrageenan sounds good on the surface description of being extracted from edible seaweed. It’s added to many items, including organic foods and toothpaste, as a thickening agent. However, it’s difficult to digest and can contribute to gut issues and discomfort. According to this article from Prevention, “although derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response similar to that your body has when invaded by pathogens like Salmonella. The result: “Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding,” explains veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago. She says the food ingredient irritates by activating an immune response that dials up inflammation. Her previous work showed a concerning connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals, and she’s involved with ongoing research funded through the National Institutes of Health that is investigating carrageenan’s effect on ulcerative colitis and other diseases like diabetes.”
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Also sometimes labeled as SLS, or sodium laureth sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate, which might be labeled as SLES. This is a chemical whose job is to make suds/foam. So before getting in to what it could be doing in the body, think for a moment what else might have this chemical. Dish soap? Hand soap? Laundry detergent? Shampoo? Body wash/soap? Are these products you want to be putting in your mouth? Probably not. Aside from that thought, SLS/SLES has been linked to skin irritation and can be a culprit for recurring canker sores. It’s also been listed as being potentially dangerous to the environment, including having toxic effects on marine life, since products with this chemical are most often disposed of by going down the drain. According to this article, “the manufacturers of SLS recently petitioned to have the chemical listed as an approved pesticide for organic farming, but fortunately the application was denied because of its polluting properties and its ability to cause environmental damage. The manufacturing process is also highly polluting, with cancer-causing volatile organic compounds and sulfur compounds that get released into the environment.” Now…of all the pesticides that have been approved, this one was denied because of its dangers, but it’s still ok to put in our mouths? Hmm…
Glycerin – Glycerin itself isn’t necessarily toxic. I’ve seen it used in many DIY recipes for home products like soaps. It becomes a problem when it’s applied to the teeth. Glycerin leaves a residue on the teeth that is very difficult to get off. You might think this is protective, but it interrupts the natural mineralization process with calcium and phosphorus floating around in your saliva. They have no access to your teeth. Without these minerals, tooth decay and cavity formation may be accelerated which is a bit ironic considering we are talking about a common toothpaste ingredient. And according to this site (and book that’s on my long list of To-Reads), “Real glycerin is made by removing it from animal fat (lard or tallow) using lye. However, modern processing methods may use cancer-causing chemicals as a part of glycerin production in slaughterhouses designed for soap production. It of course depends where the glycerin comes from. We don’t know what glycerin is used in toothpastes, whether it is from lard, corn or from biodiesel processing. It depends on the manufacturer. Glycerin is also used as solvent, antifreeze and lubricant.”
So what now?
Once I started digging a little deeper, I was inspired to start making my own toothpaste. It was one of the first DIY products I made and I haven’t looked back. You only need two ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen!
Coconut oil – Why coconut oil? It’s effective at controlling unwanted bacteria in the mouth thanks to the lauric acid in it. Coconut oil is also great for oil pulling!
Baking soda – This is used as a mildly abrasive agent to clean your teeth and acts as a natural deodorizer. *The word “abrasive” always scared me with my sensitive gums. However, baking soda is very mild and does not bother my teeth or gums at all!
There are plenty of recipes out there, but this is really all you need to start making toothpaste. To make this toothpaste, I like a 1:1 ratio. I have a little glass jar for my toothpaste where I fit 3 tablespoons coconut oil and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. This is what I’ve been using and loving for years, but I’ve tweaked it along the way.
*Many recipes I’ve seen include salt. While my sensitivity has dramatically decreased with this natural toothpaste, the use of salt sounds too abrasive for me and scares me a little so I haven’t used it.
Some new extras:
Recently, I started branching out a bit, and began adding 1 tablespoon of this Dirty Mouth Toothpowder from Primal Life Organics in place of 1 tablespoon of baking soda. The ingredients in this powder include bentonite clay, kaolinite (white clay), sodium bicarbonate (which is just baking soda, and aluminum free), French green clay (Montmorillonite), and some Peppermint oil (but you can choose a different flavor if you’d like). These ingredients, according to their website, “fill your mouth with vital and trace minerals important to maintain dental health the natural way. This mildly abrasive toothpowder gently polishes, detoxifies and refreshes your teeth while also helping to re-mineralize and strengthen the teeth.” So far, so good!
I also began adding essential oils to my toothpaste.
There are many oils that could do a world of good in dental health, but the ones I typically add are:
Clove – This oil has been used for centuries for tooth pain thanks to its numbing effects, but it also is beneficial for pathogenic bacterial control.
Orange – I like adding this oil because it’s been shown to assist in teeth whitening and also tastes pretty yummy. *Note: Citrus essential oils do not have the same potentially damaging effects to tooth enamel like, for example, lemons might. This is because the essential oil is cold-pressed from the rind of the fruit, while the highly acidic part is in the flesh.
Peppermint – Sometimes I’ll add this to a batch, sometimes I won’t. I just add it for extra freshness!
On to the recipe:
- 3 tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 tbsp. baking soda
- 1 tbsp. PLO toothpowder
- 10 drops Young Living clove oil
- 10 drops Young Living orange oil
- 5-10 drops Young Living peppermint oil (optional)
Just mix all ingredients! I’ve never had a need to heat the coconut oil.
**Important to note here: Since the Toothpowder has bentonite clay in it, avoid using a metal spoon to mix, and do not store in a metal container. Bentonite clay absorbs metals and will become less effective. You can use a plastic spoon or wooden/bamboo spoon. (The bamboo spoon would be ideal with the addition of the orange essential oil since citrus essential oils have the ability to pull toxins from plastics.)
Just pour into your glass jar once it’s all mixed.
One thing I’m going to start adding eventually are trace mineral drops! I’ll update once I start and use it for a while.
What to expect when you start using this:
- Different taste! It may taste salty because of the baking soda or just plain weird if you’re new to coconut oil. If the taste is a problem, you can try adding a few drops of xylitol for some added sweetness. (Xylitol has been shown to play a role in cavity reduction.)
- No foaming. The coconut oil will melt fairly quickly in the mouth so it’ll be like brushing with a thick oily liquid. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it!
- Don’t spit this into your sink. It’s been said coconut oil can build up and clog pipes. I’ve always just spit this into my bathroom trash. (No idea if this is true because a little hot water down the pipes would melt it anyway…but for me, it’s not a big deal to just use the trash can.)
As important as proper dental care is, I do have to add as an NTP, the importance of proper nutrition as well for dental health. For that, we look to Weston A Price and his findings. In a very short summary, he studied many different cultures and their eating habits in relation to dental health. He found the cultures that ate foods found in nature had the healthiest teeth despite minimal to no dental care, while those eating modern industrialized foods had very poor dental health. Check out his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration!
In good health,
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