Many ingredients found in traditional toothpastes have come under considerable criticism over the past few years, especially with “green” and “organic” movements influencing mainstream opinions and drawing attention to the things we consume on a daily basis. It’s always good to know what you’re putting into your body, whether it be through food or otherwise. As far as natural toothpastes are concerned, a common question that pops up is how effective are they compared to their traditional counterparts.
Many toothpastes branded as natural don’t use ingredients such as fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate, but are those ingredients important for good oral care and hygiene in the first place?
Fluoride has received more media attention than any other toothpaste or mouthwash ingredient, mainly over health concerns stemming from its addition to municipal water supplies (and health concerns in general). It’s often cited for causing weakened or brittle bone structure. Of course, to achieve this effect, an excessive amount must be ingested and absorbed by the body—far more than is present in toothpaste (or even the water supply, both as an additive and naturally). That doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. Further research is certainly warranted since we do know there are genuine issues with the substance. For instance, it isn’t recommended by the ADA for use by young children and infants.
What about sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS? For starters, it’s in a large amount of consumer products, particularly cleaning products. It’s a surfactant and cleaning agent (think foaminess). It can be an irritant, but it usually depends on the person and how sensitive they are to salts such as SLS. It’s not necessarily inherently bad, but much like fluoride, much of how it affects the body isn’t entirely known or understood. Cause for concern? Perhaps, but it isn’t worth stressing over.
Another ingredient many people have concerns over is glycerin. Glycerin is added for both texture and flavor, giving toothpastes a distinct mouthfeel and sweetness. There have been suggestions that glycerin interferes with the remineralization of tooth enamel. It’s not entirely clear if this is really the case, as it’s just suspected at this point. But, if you do have concern over glycerin or any other ingredient, such as SLS or fluoride, we can turn to alternatives.
So, how effective are the “natural” alternatives? Do they lose anything by dropping any of the above ingredients? Some people use baking soda, others use clay-based mixtures, and others still use oils (such as coconut oil or essential oils, or both), or a combination. There are many natural and simple alternatives available. However, one of the more apparent takeaways from traditional versus natural toothpastes is overall safety. If the ADA recommends that children shouldn’t use traditional toothpaste and every tube of traditional toothpastes points out that you shouldn’t swallow it, where does natural toothpaste stand?
In short, they don’t come with these stipulations. It’s quite the opposite. Natural toothpastes are considered safe (though not necessarily backed up by any significant amount of scientific research or endorsement) for children and can be swallowed. Some people may find it a bit gross, but as far as the ingredients go, it’s perfectly ok.
In the end it’s really up to personal preference. Using natural toothpaste over traditional has not been shown to be any less effective, but at the same time, it hasn’t been shown to be more effective. Guess what is effective? There’s no twist ending here. For your oral health, nothing beats brushing and flossing every day, regardless of what you choose to use.