Back before anyone understood the potential consequences, products started to load up on artificial ingredients. The original logic is that artificial ingredients were somehow innovations - feats of modern science that made everything easier and better. These ingredients were released to the public without long term studies surrounding their safety or adequate research regarding their alternatives.
Over time, data we’ve collected has deemed many artificial ingredients to be unsafe. These ingredients have been pulled from the market. We’re still learning new things about chemicals every day, raising more and more questions about the safety of the things that many of us eat, drink, or use to care for our bodies.
Many modern consumers prefer to exclusively use natural products, removing the ambiguity of chemicals and artificial ingredients from their lives. Conventional toothpaste is a major source of chemicals and artificial ingredients, and its entire purpose is to enter your mouth. If you’re already undertaking an effort to eliminate chemicals from your diet, the next logical step would be to prevent any chemicals from entering your mouth at all.
Why Are There So Many Chemicals in Toothpaste?
There’s no good reason for such large amounts of chemicals to be present in toothpaste. Manufacturers simply didn’t entertain the notion of using natural ingredients from the beginning. Synthetic ingredients were cheaper to source and produce, and many of them gave toothpaste the appearance of being a luxury commodity.
The colors are bright, the flavors are intense, the lather is rich and foamy. Many brands seemed to think that this is what people wanted, and they were happy to provide it. Over time, consumers got used to toothpaste looking, tasting, and working a certain way. It became the standard that every toothpaste thereafter would follow.
The popularity or normalcy isn’t indicative of whether or not something is good for you. Fast food, alcohol, and sugary desserts are all wildly popular. We know now that all of these things can have a negative impact on our health, especially when we don’t use them in moderation. Toothpaste is no different. Although you’re not eating it, you’re still putting it in your body.
What is Triclosan?
Triclosan is a controversial ingredient in toothpaste that has almost been completely phased out. Since toothpaste isn’t designed to kill bacteria, a few toothpaste companies thought that adding an antibacterial benefit to their products would be appealing to people looking to keep the germs in their mouths under control.
While triclosan is often used as an effective surgical antiseptic, it may not have the same benefits in toothpaste. The FDA was skeptical of the safety and efficacy of triclosan toothpastes, so they set out strict requirements brands needed to follow in order to market their triclosan toothpastes. The FDA isn’t very fond of triclosan, and they don’t believe it actually serves any benefit in oral care products. Out of every brand with triclosan, only one met the FDA’s standards by an incredibly small margin.
One of the biggest concerns with triclosan is the way it accumulates. You may only have a little bit in your toothpaste, but you’ll ultimately wind up with a lot of your toothbrush. It builds up in the bristles and stays there, increasing the overall concentration of triclosan you’re exposed to. Unless you use a new toothbrush every day, you’ll likely be exposing yourself to levels of triclosan that fall well outside the recommended maximum amounts.
What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?
Household cleaners use ingredients called surfactants to make scrubbing easier and produce lather. Surfactants are ingredients that reduce surface tension between other things, reducing friction and giving everything enough slip to produce bubbles.
SLS, or sodium lauryl sulfate, is one of the most popular surfactants. It’s the ingredient that makes your shampoo, body wash, and hand soap bubble up as you scrub. Some companies use SLS in their toothpastes to create a foamy, rich lather. This lather doesn’t actually have much of a purpose, and may actually be harmful.
SLS was studied for safety in the early 1980’s, when the ingredient was still relatively new. The study found that SLS is safe to the body in very small amounts for very small durations of time. It also deemed SLS a mild to moderate irritant due to the way it strips skin of its natural protective barrier.
The problem with this safety study is that it doesn’t accurately reflect the way most people use SLS today. Almost every product we use to clean ourselves contains SLS, or its milder cousin sodium laureth sulfate. When you’re washing your hair, face, and body with SLS products, you’re exposed to it for the entire duration of your shower or bath. This is much longer than the amount of time that studies deemed safe.
The tissue inside your mouth is very sensitive - even more sensitive than the skin on the outside of your body. SLS can strip away your mouth’s protective biofilm and dry it out, leading to chronic dry mouth, bad breath, and inadequate saliva production. That’s a lot of hassle for an ingredient that has no real reason to be in your toothpaste in the first place.
Why Does my Toothpaste Contain Artificial Colors, Sweeteners, and Flavors?
Artificial colors, sweeteners, and flavors in your toothpaste provide no benefit whatsoever. They’re only there to make brushing your teeth a more fun or pleasant experience. Blue, green, or pink toothpaste won’t clean your mouth any better than toothpaste of a natural hue. All these colorants do is add an unnecessary source of chemicals to your life.
Sweeteners and flavors are arguably more desirable. Toothpaste spends two minutes in your mouth, twice a day. If it tasted awful, nobody would want to use it. Many toothpaste companies use artificial flavors and sweeteners to make more bearable to scrub your teeth for the recommended duration.
This isn’t a bad idea in its entirety. The problem isn’t the use of flavor or sweeteners, but rather the choice of flavors and sweeteners that most companies use. With plenty of natural sweeteners and natural flavors available, it seems absurd that companies would use fake variations of things that are readily available.
Artificial mint flavors are common in toothpaste. Do you know what else tastes like mint? Mint does. The real plant we use to flavor desserts and make tea. It’s almost startling that so many toothpaste never considered the most overwhelmingly obvious solution. Why not use the real thing? It’s certainly not in short supply.
What Great Toothpaste Should Do
A great toothpaste should keep your mouth clean, help you maintain the perfect balance of good oral bacteria, strengthen your enamel, remove stains from your teeth, and prevent the buildup of plaque. Most of all, a great toothpaste should never put you in harm’s way.
Every single artificial ingredient in toothpaste can also be derived by natural sources. The only exception is artificial ingredients that don’t have a real reason to be in your toothpaste in the first place, like SLS.
Teeth can be strengthened and protected with naturally derived ingredients like coral calcium. Coral calcium is rich in the minerals your enamel needs to fortify itself, preventing cavities and reducing tooth sensitivity.
Alternatives to artificial antibacterial ingredients, sweeteners, and flavors can actually serve a purpose that benefits your oral health.
Alternative Antibacterial Ingredients
Ingredients like nano silver are completely natural and work to kill the bad bacteria in your mouth without damaging healthy cells. Nano silver is a version of the same kind of silver used to make fancy forks and knives or beautiful earrings. Silver is a naturally antibacterial substance, and nano silver is created to boost its antibacterial abilities.
One nano silver particle can steal thousands of electrons from the cell walls of bacteria, rendering them ineffective and eventually killing them without introducing anything harmful to your body. WIthin 24 hours, all the nano silver will leave your body without damaging any healthy cells or drying out your mouth.
Alternatives to Artificial Colors, Sweeteners, and Flavors
Any kind of colorant in your toothpaste is simply unnecessary, no matter if it’s natural or artificial. The last thing you want to put on your teeth is any kind of colored dye. You want your teeth to be as close to a natural shade of off white as possible.
As far as sweeteners go, there is only one sweetener with any known oral health benefits. That sweetener is called xylitol, and it’s derived from plants. Xylitol leaves behind a protective film, making it harder for bacteria to stick to your teeth. It also restores your mouth’s PH, moving it from an acidic state to an alkaline state. When your mouth is alkaline, your teeth are safe from erosion and the minerals in your toothpaste are better able to effectively repair your enamel.
Natural mint flavor does more than make your toothpaste taste good. Mint is a natural anti-inflammatory with mild antibacterial properties. If you’ve ever used a cooling muscle rub, that cooling feeling comes from mint extracts. When you put natural mint in your mouth, it will subtly produce the same effect for your gums. Swollen or inflamed gums can be naturally soothed by mint extracts.
There’s simply no reason for artificial ingredients or chemicals to be in your toothpaste. Even if they’re not likely to harm you, there are still many natural alternatives that work just as well, if not better. As more and more people have taken an interest in switching to natural products, natural toothpastes have popped up all over the place. Making the switch isn’t hard - just grab a new tube next time you’re at the store.
Source 1 - FDA / triclosan
Source 2 - SLS irritant
Source 3 - natural mint benefits