Let’s talk about something serious - our oral health. We worry a lot about what we put in our mouths; with more and more of us actually paying attention to the ingredients in our food and where our food comes from, eating organic and locally sourced food has become almost commonplace. How far does this conscientiousness extend, though? We worry heavily about the food we’re eating, but how worried are you about what you’re using to take care of the very mouth that allows you to eat that juicy yellow peach or freshly picked sun-ripened tomato? We (hopefully) all have good oral hygiene habits, brushing and flossing multiple times daily, but do you REALLY know what’s inside your oral care products?
Chances are, if you canvassed random people on the street and asked if they could tell you what should be in their toothpaste, a healthy number of them would answer “fluoride.” Why is that, though? Well, for the exact same reason we think that diet drinks are healthier than calorie dense drinks - we were told to think that way. The reality is, though, that fluoride doesn’t need to be in our toothpaste, and neither do most of the ingredients in toothpastes sold to us by major brands. The laundry list of these common (yet extremely harmful) ingredients include: fluoride, triclosan, saccharin, aspartame, parabens, carrageenan, sodium lauryl sulfates and sodium laureth sulfates, and propylene glycol. Are some of these ingredients not looking super familiar? Let’s break them down.
Fluoride: A staple ingredient in about 95% of toothpastes on the market, and a required ingredient of the American Dental Association (ADA) for their seal, Fluoride is used to strengthen the enamel on your teeth. Fluoride occurs naturally, but has been linked to health concerns in young children particularly. Over-ingestion of Fluoride has been linked to tooth discoloration, stomach problems, skin rashes, and possible impairment of glucose metabolism. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires a warning label on all toothpastes containing Fluoride.
Triclosan: Commonly used as an antibacterial agent in toothpastes, and sometimes referred to as a “super chemical” because of its’ strength, Triclosan was once a popular ingredient in soap. While no longer used in soaps (remember those little floating beads in anti-bacterial soap bottles?) because of an FDA ban, Triclosan is still a legal ingredient for toothpaste products. Most major brands, with the exception of one very popular brand that begins with a “C,” stopped using Triclosan in their products because of the many possible health complications. These concerns include cancer, Endocrine system complications, and weakened heart muscle function.
Saccharin: A sugar alternative, this sweetener is commonly used in processed foods and diet sodas, derived from petroleum, and is 350 times more sweet than unprocessed sugars. Saccharin has been linked to certain types of cancer and weight gain.
Carrageenan: Naturally derived from seaweed, Carrageenan is used as a thickening agent in toothpaste and other food products. While it occurs naturally, it is not safe, as it has been linked to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors. Scientists actually use it to stimulate inflammation in lab tests. Why would this ever be in our food or hygiene products? We at CYF have major contention with carageenan, and will be delving into how to avoid it in future blogs.
Aspartame: Another sugar substitute that is commonly used in processed foods & diet drinks; Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is associated with a horrifyingly long list of potential health complications. Ingesting too much Aspartame over time can cause migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and cancer... just to name a few.
Parabens: An estrogen mimic, Parabens are commonly found in hair care products in addition to tooth care products. They have been linked to cancer, developmental issues, and reproductive issues.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfates and Sodium Laureth Sulfates (SLS’s): Used as a foaming agent in cleansers and toothpastes, SLS’s have been linked to stomach problems, cancer, canker sores, and mouth ulcers.
Propylene Glycol: An industrial grade mineral oil, it is commonly used as an ingredient in toothpaste. It is ALSO used as an ingredient in antifreeze, paint, enamel, and airplane wing de-icer. It’s purpose in toothpaste is to act as a smoothing agent, but it has been linked to skin irritation, stomach problems, and certain cancers.
If you’re as uncomfortable and slightly frightened after reading that list, take comfort in the fact that there are natural options out there that are free of those potentially life-threatening chemicals. As always, though, read the label when choosing a new product. There are plenty of brands that are Paraben, Fluoride, and SLS free; but not all natural tooth care options are completely free of these chemicals. Some of the brands that I personally swore by for years, Burt’s Bees and Tom’s of Maine, still include Carrageenan as an ingredient in their toothpaste. That’s not to say that these aren’t quality natural products brands, I still religiously use products from both in my skincare routine.
A quality natural goods brand that offers tooth care without any of these chemicals is Uncle Harry’s. They are a family-run natural goods brand that strives to bring you products that are not only friendly to your body, friendly to the Earth, and friendly to your wallet. They offer a wide range of products including skincare, haircare, oral care, aromatherapy, and nutritional supplements. Their oral care line consists of toothpastes, tooth tabs, tooth suds, mouthwashes, whitening treatments, sensitivity aids, and products that assist with remineralization. Uncle Harry’s offers five natural, toxin-free toothpaste flavors: anise, cinnamon, mild mint, spearmint, and peppermint. All of these flavors are formulated using a blend of essential oils and other ingredients that naturally help improve the health of your mouth. Their toothpastes are vegan and gluten free, and comparatively have a much less daunting ingredient list than some of their other natural competitors.
For example, my tried and true Tom’s of Maine “Botanically Bright” toothpaste ingredient list includes: water, hydrated silica, sorbitol, glycerin, xylitol, lauryl glucoside, sodium cocoyl glutamate, peppermint oil, benzyl alcohol, xanthan gum, titanium dioxide, carrageenan, stevia rebaudiana extract, and propolis extract. They advertise it as a natural, Fluoride and SLS-free product (which it is) but the ingredient list is still composed of ingredients that aren’t widely recognized by the general public, which includes myself. I had to look up more than a few of these ingredients, and I was less than pleased by what I discovered.
In comparison, the Uncle Harry’s “Peppermint” toothpaste has only 11 ingredients: Bentonite clay, calcium carbonate, colloidal silver water, sea salt, ionic minerals, mustard seed, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, clove oil, wintergreen oil, and oregano oil. These ingredients are all naturally occurring, and encourage natural re-mineralization as well as maintaining an alkaline pH in your mouth. I’m personally much more inclined to use a product if I know exactly what’s in it. Transparency is very important, especially when it comes to what we’re putting in our bodies. Uncle Harry’s also gives you the option to buy their product in bulk, which is lovely in today's day and age when we’re trying to stretch our dollar as far as it will go.
Another very easy change you can make to your oral hygiene routine to improve your overall mouth health is to be sure you’re cleaning your gums and your tongue. Brushing your tongue on a regular basis helps remove bacteria that can cause periodontal disease and oral thrush. Using a tongue scraper is an easy way to clean your tongue, and you can find them at most drug stores. (We love Dr. Tungs!) To clean your gums, you can use a soft bristled toothbrush to gently clean your gums to remove bacteria and possible plaque buildup. RADIUS is a great option if you’re looking for a sustainable and effective new toothbrush. RADIUS is an eco-friendly woman owned business that offers one of the most intimidating yet thoughtful toothbrushes on the market. The large ergonomic handle fits in your palm perfectly, and it comes in a right-handed or left-handed design! The handle is made from renewable plant-based materials, and the replaceable oval brush head is large enough to gently clean your teeth and gums at the same time.