Toothpaste is an important part of your oral hygiene routine, and helps keep your teeth and gums clean, freshens your breath, and protects your teeth from cavities. Today’s toothpaste contains advanced ingredients that help it protect your smile, like fluoride. However, some Americans question the safety of these ingredients. This has caused an increased interest in alternatives to toothpaste. But are these alternatives to toothpaste safe and effective?
Common Ingredients in Toothpaste
Thousands of years ago, toothpastes contained burnt eggshells and ox hoof ashes combined with pumice. Other cultures favored crushed oyster shells or bones, along with charcoal and bark to freshen breath. These ingredients ‘cleaned’ teeth but were abrasive, which means they could damage the protective enamel shell covering teeth.
Scientific research and years of collective experience by practicing dentists have helped toothpaste manufacturers determine the safest, most effective ingredients to add to toothpastes. Modern toothpastes are less abrasive, more beneficial to overall oral health, and taste better. Today’s toothpastes are also engineered to prevent or treat dental conditions, such as cavities and tooth sensitivity. Common ingredients found in American Dental Association (ADA) approved toothpastes include:
- Fluoride – Enforces overall enamel health and protects against tooth decay and cavities.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – A sulfate which means it gives toothpaste its characteristic foaming action. This may help push toothpaste into cracks and crevices of teeth.
- Artificial Sweeteners – Because the beneficial ingredients of toothpaste may not have a pleasant flavor, many toothpaste manufacturers add artificial sweeteners that help people, especially children, brush longer and more thoroughly.
- Triclosan – An antibacterial agent that fights harmful bacteria that causes plaque, which is linked to most dental problems, like gingivitis.
- Zinc Citrate – Helps to freshen breath by removing odor-causing bacteria from the mouth.
Some of these ingredients, particularly the artificial sweeteners and chemicals, are concerning to some people. The rise in popularity of shopping ‘natural’ among consumers has brought on a whole new approach to oral hygiene – toothpaste alternatives that lack artificial colors, sweeteners, and chemicals.
Out of concerns regarding the ingredients in toothpaste, many American consumers are turning to toothpaste alternatives that are made of one or a small number of natural ingredients. In addition to being homemade, some popular companies including Schmidt’s offer toothpaste that claim to be better for your teeth than traditional ADA approved toothpaste. The most common ingredients in homemade and store-bought traditional toothpaste alternatives include:
- Baking Soda – Because it does help to keep teeth clean, people have been using baking soda as an alternative to toothpaste for years. In fact, many toothpaste manufacturers include baking soda in their toothpaste products. However, using baking soda alone does not provide consumers with fluoride and other ingredients they need to fight bacteria and keep teeth and gums healthy.
- Charcoal – Some consumers believe that activated charcoal provides anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-viral, and oral detoxification effects to the teeth, gums, and mouth. Not only is there insufficient research to back up these claims, but as an abrasive, charcoal can wear away your enamel permanently leaving you susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – Many products contain hydrogen peroxide as a whitening agent because of the way its foaming action scrubs away and releases stain-causing debris from teeth. Again, hydrogen peroxide alone is not effective enough at providing cavity protection, and can even be harmful if swallowed.
- Coconut Oil & Essential Oils – There is mixed feedback from the professional dental community about using oils for brushing your teeth. Coconut oil and certain essential oils have antibacterial and antifungal properties. In fact, some essential oils can match the effectiveness of chlorhexidine, which is often used in antibacterial mouthwash. However, dentists recommend that you use coconut or essential oil blends in addition to a regular dental routine that includes fluoridated toothpaste.
Are Toothpaste Alternatives Effective?
Most toothpaste alternatives are simply not effective at preventing cavities and other oral health problems. This is particularly true for alternative toothpastes that do not contain fluoride.
Fluoride is crucial to an overall healthy smile. Fluoride works by strengthening your enamel, protecting against tooth decay, cavities, and enamel erosion. Homemade or alternative toothpastes that lack fluoride may freshen your breath, but they aren’t as effective at protecting your smile. In fact, recent research shows that without fluoride, brushing and flossing have little to no effect on cavities.
In many cases, research has been unable to substantiate many of the claims made by toothpaste alternatives. This means consumers may not get the results they expect when they use these alternatives. Even worse, some toothpaste alternatives are unsafe for your teeth. Charcoal is the biggest offender, as it can not only result in enamel erosion, but it can even stain crowns and veneers.
An important oral hygiene routine at home is just as important as bi-annual dental cleanings. When it comes to your oral health, you shouldn’t take any chances on your toothpaste. You should always use an ADA approved fluoridated toothpaste in your dental hygiene routine. The ADA extensively tests and researches toothpaste ingredients to ensure that ADA approved toothpastes are safe and effective – something you can’t be promised with a toothpaste alternative.
Williams & Daily Dental is a family and cosmetic dentist located in North Raleigh, NC with a team of dedicated dentists enthusiastic in their commitment to their patients. We offer dental implants, Invisalign teeth straightening, in-office and home teeth whitening options, and Oral-B electric toothbrushes. Contact Williams & Daily at (919) 846-9070 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.