It seems like every day we find out about yet another harmful thing that's lurking in our everyday routine. Today? It's the harsh chemicals in some toothpastes—ones that really aren't even essential to cleaning your teeth.
"Most toothpastes were first developed and made by soap makers over 100 years ago."—Dr. Gerry Curatola
We asked two experts—Dr. Bruno Sharp, creator of Dr. Sharp Dentistry, and Dr. Gerry Curatola, RealSelf contributor and founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry—to break down which ingredients to avoid and what we should be looking for instead. "Most toothpastes were first developed by soap makers more than 100 years ago," Dr. Curatola says. "Many of the ingredients in these products have been found to not only be ineffectual but even harmful to the natural environment of the mouth," he adds. Do go on, Doctor.
Here's what to keep an eye out for:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
This chemical might sound familiar to you: "Sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant [an agent that dissolves liquid in order to produce foam] is one of the most common ingredients in toothpaste, and is found in almost all detergent products," Dr. Curatola says. Sulfate can soften gums and other tissues in the mouth, as well as contribute to breakouts of canker sores.
"Sodium fluoride, which has been added to toothpaste since the '60s as an anti-cavity ingredient, is actually a toxic chemical," Dr. Curatola says. Dr. Sharp adds, "too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis," which is a condition that causes hard, discolored spots on teeth.
This is another less than ideal ingredient. The Food and Drug Administration is currently trying to ban triclosan, following the lead of Minnesota, which passed a bill to kick triclosan-embedded products out of the state. Why is it so bad? It has an indefinite shelf-life in your body and that means it can stick onto bones (like your teeth!) and other surfaces, and cause wear and tear.
So, now that you know what shouldn't be in your toothpaste, find out what you should be using instead.
The Earth Provides Some of the Best Cleaners, You Know
As opposed to the harmful cleansers mentioned above, there are natural nutrients out there that will give your mouth a good, clean feeling. And Dr. Curatola says that these natural ingredients do more than just cleanse.
"We have to change our mentality around how we take care of our mouths," he says, adding that instead of fighting bacteria, it's important to treat and harvest the good bacteria that helps our immune systems and overall health. Think of natural ingredients as balancing the mouth out. "You don't want to kill [bacteria], but rather to nourish the mouth back to a state of balance, which we call 'homeostasis,'" he says.
"Ingredients that help restore the microbial balance are prebiotics (probiotics don't work in the mouth)," Dr. Curatola says. "These include nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q-10, and cranberry extract."
Dr. Sharp adds that non-GMO ingredients are best and lists sage, licorice, xylitol, and green tea as harmless cleansers, and Stevia as a great natural sweetener.
The Risk Factor of Natural Toothpastes Is Low
Like everything else in our medicine cabinets, alternative toothpastes can have their drawbacks, too. "Just because it says 'natural' does not mean it is good for you," Dr. Curatola says. "While many natural toothpastes have removed some harmful ingredients like artificial flavors and color dyes," he says, "there are still versions of the detergent and antimicrobial products in the conventional consumer product world."
Try to avoid ingredients including artificial sweeteners like aspartame and any high concentrations of essential extracts from peppermint and tea tree, as they are too antibacterial, which causes the mouth's ecosystem to become imbalanced.
Other than that, you should be fine! "Natural toothpaste can be used by the entire family from baby to adulthood," Dr. Sharp says.
Yes, There Are a Number of Options Out There
Here they are!