(By Jonathan Willbanks, Wellness and Longevity Expert)
What Are You Really Putting In Your Mouth?
Our mouths are one of the most important parts of our body. They are our conduits for nutrition and communication, as well as the frame for our smile. Yet oral hygiene is often one of the most neglected components of a healthy lifestyle.
Unbeknownst to most consumers, many common oral hygiene products —including toothpaste, mouthwash, whitening products, and even dental floss — can also be quite toxic.
Mainstream toothpastes like Crest and Colgate are among the worst offenders, and are loaded with known and suspected carcinogens, including:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Polyethylene (contains BPA)
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
- Propylene Glycol (industrial solvent used in antifreeze)
- Cetylpyridinum choloride (pesticide)
- Artificial food coloring (even in so-called “whitening” toothpastes)
- Sodium fluoride
The dangers and risks associated with these additives have been widely covered on other sites. Long story short — despite some debate over the long-term toxicity of these additives, common sense and the precautionary principle strongly suggest that none of these substances are something you probably want to put in your mouth on a regular basis. This goes double for children, as the human body is far more vulnerable to environmental toxins during early development.
The one substance I will take special note of here is sodium fluoride because in this writer’s opinion, it is not only the most dangerous entry on the list, but also the most ubiquitous.
Notice that on the back label of any American Dental Association (ADA) approved toothpaste, you will see the following warning:
If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.
This warning is in reference to the potential for fluoride poisoning. According to the Akron Regional Poison Center, ingesting as little as 1/10 of an ounce of fluoride can kill a 100-lb. adult, and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset at much lower doses. Incidentally, 1/10 of an ounce of fluoride is approximately the amount found in a standard 4oz. tube of Crest toothpaste (0.243% sodium fluoride by volume). The other toxic additives commonly found in oral hygiene products, while suspected and known carcinogens, will not immediately poison you, though serious questions remain as to their combined long term health effects. Fluoride is a different matter, and is more pernicious than other toxins because it is proven to be harmful, is cumulative and builds up in the body.
Why is this significant? Because according to a substantial body of research, including a recent Harvard University meta-analysis study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, fluoride is neurotoxic, impairs neurological development in children, and can cause dental and skeletal fluorosis.
For more information about the dangers of fluoride and how to minimize your exposure to it for as little as a few dollars per week, check out my previous Healthy Alternatives article on the subject.
But enough about the problems with modern oral hygiene products; this series is about solutions. The following section will provide suggestions for affordable natural and/or nontoxic alternatives to the four pillars of oral hygiene: toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, and teeth whitening.
Look for natural toothpaste brands that avoid the potentially toxic substances outlined above. Toothpastes should be sweetened with xylitol, stevia or sorbitol, and rely on active ingredients like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, colloidal silver, or other natural cleaning and antibacterial agents. In short, look for a fluoride-free toothpaste that contains minimal synthetic and chemical additives.
Also consider researching different brands online to read user reviews and see what has worked well for others. Unfortunately, some of the natural personal care products on the market, while laudably non-toxic, can be of highly variably efficacy. The goal of clean living on a budget is to substitute your existing products with cost-effective alternatives that perform as well or better than the chemical-laden mainstream brands they are replacing.
For convenience, some excellent and highly effective options that meet all or most of the above criteria are:
Jason PowerSmile: An all-around stellar product, PowerSmile is my personal favorite natural toothpaste. It has also been a smash hit with everyone I’ve recommended it to. Not only will it leave your mouth feeling pristinely clean, it is also an effective albeit gradual teeth whitener when used regularly for several weeks.
PowerSmile is also highly cost effective at just $2.89 per four-ounce tube at Vitacost.com, a price comparable to mainstream grocery/drug store brands like Crest and Colgate.
NOW Foods Xyliwhite: Uses baking soda and silica to clean and strengthen teeth, papain (papaya extract) to whiten teeth, and tea tree oil as an antiseptic agent to freshen and control bad breath.
The price is also quite reasonable if ordered online at iHerb.com, at about $3.80/tube.
First time iHerb.com customers can try it for free with coupon code UYO686, worth $5 off your first order of any size, and $10 off your first order of $40 or more.
Life Extension Toothpaste: While not completely natural, Life Extension Toothpaste is another excellent alternative that is loaded with beneficial nutrients like CoQ10 (ubiquinone) and green tea (camellia sinensis) extract to promote healthy gums.
It is also fairly unique among alternative toothpaste brands in that its primary antibacterial agent is the natural health favorite colloidal silver.
The downside? As with most generally excellent products from the Life Extension brand, this toothpaste is a bit pricey at about $7 per tube.
The active ingredient in most name brand mouthwashes is sodium fluoride. The remainder is mostly water, alcohol, and artificial food coloring (which is potentially toxic unto itself, and probably not helpful in whitening your teeth).
There are some excellent natural alternatives available from companies like Jason Naturals, Desert Essence, and others, but they can be slightly more expensive than typical grocery store brands if ordered online ($4 – $6 per 16oz. bottle), and up to $10 per bottle if purchased at brick-and-mortar health food stores. Also worthy of consideration is glyco-thymoline, an old school mouthwash product that was enthusiastically recommended by Edgar Cayce. Glyco-thymoline is too expensive for many consumers to use as a daily mouthwash (about $12/bottle after shipping costs), but it is invaluable as an antiseptic gargle when treating a sore throat.
A less expensive alternative is to gargle with a quick mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water. Sprinkle in some baking soda or sea salt for added cleaning power.
If you’re feeling more ambitious and would like to make your own mouthwash, give the following recipe a try:
- 16 oz. purified water
- 1 Tsp. baking soda
- 4 Tbsp. hydrogen peroxide
- ¼ tsp. Himalayan pink crystal salt (optional)
- 1-2 single serve packets of stevia (make sure it does not contain dextrose as a filler), or 1 Tbsp. xylitol for taste
- 10-20 drops essential oil of cinnamon, clove, wintergreen, or tea tree. Peppermint extract is another affordable substitute that most readers will already have in their cupboards.
Shake gently before each use and store in an empty mouthwash container or similar dark reusable bottle. Estimated cost is about $1 per 16oz. batch.
Caution: Do not ingest any product containing hydrogen peroxide. Use as gargle only.
The only notable red flag to watch out for when buying dental floss is fluoride coating, Many brands enthusiastically promote this on their labels, e.g. “Now with fluoride!” but informed consumers know better. Look for regular fluoride free dental floss or picks whenever possible.
An excellent option is Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Dental Floss, which offers a fluoride-free floss with the antiseptic benefits of tea tree oil, available for $2.22 at VitaCost.
Many popular teeth whitening products contain potentially harmful chemicals that can be highly irritating and inflammatory to gums, as well as strip enamel from your teeth with repeated use.
Jason PowerSmile Natural Whitening Toothpaste is a great place to start for anyone interested in whitening teeth naturally. To compliment this, you can try an inexpensive home whitening remedy made from a blend of baking soda and crushed strawberry. This really works.
According to Health.com:
“The secret to this inexpensive home whitening method is malic acid, which acts as an astringent to remove surface discoloration. Combined with baking soda, strawberries become a natural tooth-cleanser, buffing away stains from wine, coffee, and dark sodas.”
“This is a fast, cheap way to brighten your smile,” says Adina Carrel, DMD, a dentist in private practice at Manhattan Dental Arts in New York.
Directions: Crush half of a strawberry into a pulp, then mix in ¼ tsp. of baking soda. Use a soft toothbrush or your finger to apply the mixture to your teeth. Let sit for five minutes, then brush with toothpaste to remove any residue. Rinse with water or mouthwash, and follow up with a quick flossing to remove any strawberry seeds stuck between your teeth. You can safely repeat this process up to once a week, but be careful not to overdo it, as excessive chronic application, like any whitening regimen, can damage the enamel on your teeth.
Diet and Lifestyle
Lifestyle, and diet in particular, are obviously major factors in oral hygiene. Diets high in sugar and starches are especially hazardous to teeth, as these starches provide the perfect food for bacteria that promote tooth decay. Minimizing your consumption of sugar and starches, along with an alkaline-promoting diet high in raw fruits and vegetables will do more for the health of your mouth, and your body in general, than any product that money can buy.
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We only recommend products that we have used and thoroughly tested ourselves.
If you have a natural health product that you would like to be considered for review or inclusion in this series, contact the author at [email protected]
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