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Conventional toothpastes like Crest and Colgate may make snazzy promises to turn your teeth white as snow, freshen your breath, or ward off cavities, but the truth is that most of these promises are subject to debate – and in some cases, the ingredients used to cater to these desires might be more harmful than helpful.
First things first: as much as conventional toothpaste brands would like you believe otherwise, toothpaste is actually only meant to do one job, and that’s to act as an abrasive to help the toothbrush break up the film that naturally builds up on your teeth over the course of the day or night. The other promises that manufacturers make, like whitening teeth, cannot be achieved by toothpaste. In order to whiten teeth, for example, the chemical whiteners in toothpaste would need to be pressed up to your tooth for several hours or more – far longer than you’d spend brushing (we hope!).
Empty promises are the least of your worries when it comes to conventional toothpastes. Breath-freshening products, for example, contain chemicals that neutralize bacteria. This sounds like a good thing until you learn that some bacteria is actually naturally present in your mouth and that killing off all bacteria can actually disrupt the delicate balance of this natural flora, thus worsening breath in the long run.
Some brands (like Colgate) attempt to “balance” bacteria with triclosan, a pesticide that has been shown in some studies to interfere with muscle function and disrupt endocrine and hormone function. Most brands use sodium lauryl sulfate to create the foaminess we all associate with toothpastes – but some studies have linked it to the irritation of the delicate membranes of your mouth and even to the formation of canker sores.
Luckily, there are several products on the market that are much better for you than conventional toothpaste ever could be. Here are seven to try as you transition away from conventional toothpaste.
Nature’s Gate Natural Toothpaste
Since some natural toothpastes have a very different texture and flavor from conventional, it can take some time to get used to brushing with a new product. Nature’s Gate is one of our favorite transitional toothpastes, because while it’s definitely different from Crest or Colgate, it’s not quite as unfamiliar as some other brands.
Nature’s Gate doesn’t contain foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate, but it does contain sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, a product that studies have shown is not as harmful as sodium lauryl sulfate, but does lend that familiar foamy texture to the product.
This toothpaste is also free of fluoride, parabens, artificial flavors, and sweeteners, making it a great choice.
Dr. Ken’s All Natural Maximum Care Toothpaste
Developed by dentist Dr. Kenneth Nussen, Dr. Ken’s is another great transitional toothpaste containing the less dangerous sodium lauroyl sarcosinate. It’s made with naturally antibacterial green tea extract and papain, a natural papaya enzyme that is said to have whitening properties but has also traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory and to heal skin problems, which can definitely be helpful on the delicate skin inside your mouth.
This toothpaste comes in three flavors – wintergreen, cinnamon, and spearmint – each of which is available in a fluoride-free version.
Green People Toothpaste
This certified organic, non-toxic toothpaste is consistently rated well among both dentists and consumers. SLS and fluoride-free, it comes in a variety of flavors that are made with natural essential oils. Peppermint is a great one for those used to conventional toothpastes, but the aloe vera version is perfect for sensitive gums. The propolis version has naturally antibacterial properties that won’t mess with your natural mouth flora.
Desert Essence Toothpaste
This brand makes several natural toothpastes with naturally antiseptic tea tree oil, including varieties with fennel, ginger, and neem, a plant also known as India’s “toothbrush tree.” Neem twigs are often chewed in India in lieu of brushing teeth, as the neem plant naturally boasts antibacterial and antifungal properties. It also contains natural mint oils, which give it a fresh flavor.
This toothpaste is free from unnatural ingredients that you’ll find in many commercial toothpastes and contains no fluoride, triclosan, SLS, parabens, or sweeteners.
Lavera is a sea salt-based toothpaste, which is great for cleaning teeth but can be a bit of an adjustment in the flavor department.
Because salt has a natural mouth-watering effect, it allows saliva to flush out the mouth naturally. Sea salt is also rich in trace elements and minerals that strengthen the gums and counteract bad bacteria in the mouth.
This toothpaste also contains propolis, arnica, myrrh, and Echinacea, all of which naturally promote balanced oral flora.
The only thing to be aware of with these toothpastes is that some do contain fluoride. Be sure to pick one, like the organic toothpaste, that is fluoride-free for optimal mouth health.
Weleda Salt Toothpaste
This salt toothpaste was developed by dentists for its natural pH-balancing characteristics. Most of our diets are fairly acidic, and acid in the mouth can cause cavities. This slightly alkaline toothpaste neutralizes this acid, promoting better mouth health.
The salty taste of this toothpaste does take some getting used to, but it’s complemented by a mixture of essential oils like peppermint, horse chestnut bark, and esculin, which add a touch of flavor and help to balance bad bacteria.
If none of these natural toothpastes suits your fancy, you can always make your own homemade toothpaste. Simple baking soda or sea salt can be used on their own, or you can concoct your own DIY toothpaste out of a combination of ingredients. Either of these methods allows you to control each and every ingredient for a natural toothpaste that supports balanced oral health.
Click here for my Complete Guide to Homemade Toothpaste
Dr. Mark Burhenneread next: The Complete Guide to DIY Toothpaste (And The Recipe I Use)
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