Finding or making vegan food is relatively easy. Something as straightforward as a mango or some leeks takes all the guesswork out of preparing a meal. Finding vegan alternatives to everyday mass produced products for health and hygiene can be a little more difficult. Manufacturers rely heavily on animal byproducts and animal testing to bring products to the market, and they’re not always straightforward about where they derive their ingredients or how they prove their safety.
It almost seems absurd to think that vegans would have to go out of their way to find suitable toothpaste, but this is the world we’re living in. Thankfully, with a surge of people attempting to source as many animal friendly, eco-friendly alternatives as possible, many manufacturers have responded. Demand created supply, and if you don’t mind paying a little bit of a premium for a better quality product, you can absolutely find vegan toothpaste.
Brands That Test on Animals
If you have strong vegan ethics, you don’t want to purchase toothpaste from a company that tests their products on animals. Even if the end product does not contain any animal derived ingredients, the company is still actively utilizing a process that many people view as wholly cruel and completely unnecessary.
While many United States health, beauty, and personal care brands have elected to forego all animal testing proceses, the global economy makes doing so a little more difficult. Chinese law requires that all products be tested on animals before they’re allowed to hit store shelves. Any brand that retails in China is a brand that tests on animals.
Aquafresh, Arm & Hammer, Biotene, Crest, and Spry all test on animals. Colgate also tests on animals, despite some of their misleading offerings. Colgate promotes a line of vegan oral care products, but they are not a cruelty free company. They sell in countries that mandate animal testing, and they fulfill their legal obligations to continue to serve that market. While the toothpastes they sell are free from animal products, animals are still harmed in the making of their toothpastes.
Some smaller toothpaste brands with very popular vegan and all natural options are owned by Colgate. Colgate owns Hello and Tom’s of Maine, technically putting both varieties of toothpaste under the animal testing umbrella. Schmidt’s is owned by Unilever, another company that utilizes animal testing for its products. Always remember to investigate parent companies of major brands - don’t be deceived by packaging claims or overlook the small print.
Non-Vegan Ingredients in Toothpaste
It may not seem apparent why all toothpastes aren’t vegan. Toothpaste doesn’t seem like one of those products that would be enhanced by the use of animal products. It doesn’t require any kind of durability and it isn’t designed to have any nutritional value. Nevertheless, animal derivatives still exist in most modern oral care products.
Many natural toothpastes contain something called propolis, a natural ingredient reported to promote healthy gums. Propolis is a natural ingredient that will kill bacteria in the mouth. The problem with propolis is that it’s derived from bees. Propolis, also known as bee glue, is secreted by builder bees who want to seal or strengthen hives. It also seals and strengthens teeth.
Vegans should avoid natural toothpastes that list propolis as an ingredient, as there is no ethical way to source propolis without harming bees or active bee habitats. Environmental concern for the preservation of bees is a worthy cause for anyone of any lifestyle or diet to champion. People who are concerned with the bee population for environmental reasons may also want to avoid propolis toothpastes, whether they’re vegan or not.
Toothpastes often contain glycerin. Glycerin isn’t always animal derived. Glycerin can be made synthetically, in which case it wouldn’t be an ingredient in all natural toothpaste. The alternatives for naturally sourced glycerin are animal and plant sources. Unless the packaging clearly states that the glycerin used to create the product came from a plant source, it’s best to assume it came from an animal source.
Remineralizing, strengthening, or sensitive toothpastes often contain micronized calcium phosphate particles. These particles are often made from animal bones. There are natural sources of calcium phosphate, but mass manufacturers haven’t made a real effort to incorporate them into their products. Vegan toothpastes often utilize calcium carbonate as an alternative.
What Does Fluoride Do?
Fluoride is a natural mineral found all over the earth. It’s in dirt, rocks, trees, and plants. It’s completely natural and completely vegan. Fluoride minerals are little building blocks that teeth can use to restore lost enamel.
Fluoride works by building up in your saliva. Whenever you eat carbohydrates or sugar, the bacteria in your mouth have a field day. They love the chewed up little bits of carbs that get stuck in your teeth. As the bacteria begin to attack the remnants of your food, they start to eat it up. The byproduct of this process creates an acid that can wear away your enamel and cause cavities.
When your spit is filled with fluoride, it washes over your teeth and replenishes the mineral loss as soon as it begins to occur. Your saliva contains calcium and phosphate, and these minerals pair with the fluoride to create fluorapatite, a new compound that can help to protect teeth from ongoing erosion.
Many dentists recommend fluoride, and it’s often added to tap water. If you drink from the tap, you’re probably getting fluoride in your diet.
Is Fluoride Safe?
Fluoride is a controversial ingredient. We do know that small amounts of fluoride are safe. Overexposure to fluoride can lead to illnesses like dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis. These illnesses are most common in countries where the general population requires heavily on groundwater. Since dirt is full of fluoride, water that comes from the earth is bound to contain excessive amounts of fluoride.
While fluoride is not likely to cause harm in small amounts, many people find it to be unnecessary at best. Developed countries where people have better access to quality dental care and are able to brush their teeth twice a day are unlikely to experience negative effects from foregoing fluoride.
There is some anecdotal evidence that fluoride may play a small role as an endocrine disruptor, upsetting the necessary balance of thyroid hormones. In 19th century Europe, doctors prescribed fluoride to patients they perceived to have hyperthyroidism, and they found that fluoride reduced thyroid activity. If you have thyroid health concerns, speak with your doctor. Ask about fluoride.
Fluoride is more of a personal preference. Use it if you’re comfortable with it. If you don’t feel you need it or would prefer to utilize natural sources of minerals to promote enamel health, go ahead.
Are There Alternatives to Fluoride?
Fluoride is intended to prevent cavities and keep teeth strong. Another way to accomplish the same goal is to properly clean your mouth. Regularly brushing to keep the surface of the teeth clean and using a natural antibacterial mouthwash to kill bacteria will prevent cavities. Fluoride is more necessary for people who don’t have access to toothpaste and mouthwash or cannot use them twice a day.
If you’re only using fluoride because you believe you need it, it’s okay to re-evaluate your position. If you’re diligent with your dental health practices, fluoride may not provide anything of value to your oral care routine. A toothpaste or mouthwash with antibacterial ingredients that continue to work even after you’ve brushed will accomplish just about the same thing that fluoride will.
Finding Natural Vegan Fluoride Toothpastes
There are not many options for natural vegan fluoride toothpastes. Most people who opt to use natural toothpastes are doing so to ditch fluoride. Not every natural toothpaste is vegan, as many natural ingredients are derived from animals or bees. Of the few offerings that fit the category, many of their parent companies are owned by brands that test on animals.
The only two independent and widely available brands left are Jason and Kiss My Face. It’s almost disheartening that there are only two brands that provide toothpastes that check every mark on the list. Both brands offer fluoride free varieties of their cruelty free natural vegan toothpastes.
New variations of toothpaste come to market every day. If the brand appears to be vegan and cruelty free but doesn’t specify so, check to make sure. You should also check to see if the brand has a parent company that participates in animal testing.
People often squawk and complain about preachy vegans, but most vegans really do deserve a pat on the back. It can be exceedingly difficult to life a completely cruelty free lifestyle. Vegans only make up 0.5% of the United States population, and the market is so small that brands don’t often go out of their way to cater to them. It’s difficult to be passionate and devoted when everything seems to be working against you, and that’s something vegans don’t often get enough credit for.
Source 1 - propolis toothpaste
Source 2 - fluoride safety
Source 3 - cruelty free