It’s funny how we can buy organic foods and shop for non-toxic sunscreen, but then think nothing of whipping out a blue, sparkly toothpaste for our kids to put in their mouths.
But just because you make your own toothpaste doesn’t mean you can’t do damage to your teeth.
I’ve seen plenty of DIY toothpaste recipes sent to me by patients and readers that are harmful to enamel or even the microbiome.
Here’s everything you need to know about making your own toothpaste, as well as how to choose the ingredients that will have the most benefit to your dental health.
Why Make Your Own Toothpaste?
Many mainstream brands of toothpastes contain harmful or even toxic ingredients such as:
- Triclosan, a pesticide and hormone disruptor.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which causes canker sores for many people.
- Artificial colorings linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children. Toothpaste does not need to be blue!
- Fluoride, which can be toxic if swallowed and doesn’t even work in toothpaste.
- Titanium dioxide, which is added to make a toothpaste white. Most of the data shows it’s safe and is not absorbed by the skin, but I have yet to find a study done to measure absorption by oral tissues. The EWG has a good list of safety concerns around titanium dioxide, but the take-home message: it’s just there to make toothpaste white, not improve your health. So why bother with it?
- Glycerin, which isn’t toxic, but has no place in the mouth as it’s a soap that strips your body’s natural oral mucosa and leaves a film. This film could coat the teeth, messing with the structure of the biofilm which could alter the microbiome in the mouth and impact the natural remineralization process — your body’s natural cavity-fighting mechanism.
- Highly abrasive ingredients, which damage enamel, making teeth sensitive and more prone to gum recession and cavities. Toothpaste should be only a little bit abrasive — this graininess aids the brushing motion to remove the biofilm of the tooth.
The Best Ingredients to Use in Homemade Toothpaste
- Coconut oil, which can help boost the microbiome in your gut (remember, the gut begins in the mouth!) and naturally prevent candida in the mouth. There is limited evidence that coconut oil might help reduce cavity-causing bacteria — either way, it can only help, so long as it’s not used as a replacement for flossing, brushing, and tongue scraping.
- Trace minerals drops, especially if you drink reverse osmosis water, which removes bad stuff from the water, but also removes the good stuff too. I use Liqumins Trace Mineral Drops, which were recommended to me by integrative physician Elson Haas.
- Crushed cacao nibs: Believe it or not, the ideal toothpaste would be a chocolate toothpaste, since compounds in cacao beans promote remineralization better than fluoride (and of course, much more safely). Depending on the grain size of the cacao nibs, it could be a safe abrasive to break up the biofilm — just like ground walnut shells are used to polish jewelry!
- Bentonite clay, which is a natural polisher rich in minerals that isn’t too abrasive. It’s also alkaline, so it helps reduce acidity in the mouth. Don’t be afraid of putting “dirt” in your mouth — we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we need to sterilize our mouths with mouthwashes that remove “99% of germs” but vibrant dental health is actually about achieving a balanced ecosystem of bacteria in your mouth, which protects us from illness and promotes tooth remineralization. Clay is actually used to clean and polish exotic cars without damaging the finish.
- Xylitol for its abilities to reduce cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Just don’t add too much since it’s a sweetener — too much can reprogram your taste buds to crave too much sweetness.
- Baking soda, for its alkalinity. Our teeth and mouths are constantly under attack by acids thanks to the foods we eat. Neutralizing these acids with vegetables and water is essential to maintaining proper pH in the mouth to encourage the right bacteria as well as protect enamel from decay. Baking soda has a pH of 9 to 11 (alkaline), so it helps to neutralize acids while not being too abrasive to teeth.
Leave it Out: Ingredients to Avoid
- Anything acidic: I recommend grabbing pH strips from Amazon to test the acidity of any homemade toothpaste. Anything you make and use should ideally have a pH of 7 (neutral) or higher. Tooth enamel is built to resist acids, yes, but teeth are usually under constant acid attack — often in the form of constant snacking, the wrong foods, or even the right foods — sipping on kombucha doesn’t give teeth a break from acid, preventing remineralization and making your teeth prone to decay.
- Hydrogen peroxide: Yes, this is the same ingredient used in whitening products and it does work — just not in the form of toothpaste. In order for hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth, it needs to be held up against the tooth for an extended period of time — ideally with a custom-made tray, but also possible using whitening strips. You can’t just brush hydrogen peroxide on for a few minutes — it’s not long enough to have an effect. Hydrogen peroxide should be held up against only tooth enamel — ideally, it never comes into contact with gums, tongue, and soft tissues of the mouth, where it creates free radicals, which age us.
- Essential oils: This one may be a surprise! Since essential oils have antibacterial properties, they ideally should not be in the mouth. We want to nourish and feed the delicate balance of bacteria in our mouths, not kill it off! Doing so can set the stage for poor oral health, bad breath, and other imbalances. Bacteria are important!
Can I just use baking soda?
Baking soda is completely safe to use as a DIY toothpaste. I like it because it’s non-toxic and increases alkalinity in the mouth by neutralizing acids, all while having a very low abrasion score.
Do I need to use toothpaste at all? How about using just water?
Using no toothpaste at all is perfectly fine. I dry brush without toothpaste all the time. The point of toothpaste is to add a little graininess to help the brushing motion of your toothbrush break up the biofilm. A polish, like toothpaste, helps you do this better than dry brushing, but if you’re traveling or away from the sink, don’t let a lack of toothpaste stop you from dry brushing!
Don’t let toothpaste be an afterthought. The toothpaste you use can have a tremendous effect on not just your teeth, but your overall health as well.
Mark Burhenne DDS
Update: Want a 100% Dr. B approved toothpaste? Try out our DIY toothpaste recipe.