How Healthy is Your Toothpaste?

Healthy_Toothpaste

We all want a dazzling smile that is as healthy as it is beautiful! Taking care of our teeth is so much more than having a nice smile and pleasant breath. I have been a dental hygienist for 15 years and have educated my patients on the importance of brushing and flossing, not just to reduce cavities and gum disease, but also because our mouth is a gateway to the body.  Thorough brushing and flossing to remove pathogenic bacteria is not only good for our teeth and gums, but also for our overall health.

Studies show that infections and harmful bacteria in the mouth can travel throughout the body’s system and can be attributed to heart disease, stroke, respiratory infections, diabetes, low birth weight, osteoporosis and even cancer.  Good oral hygiene is imperative, but it’s not the brand of toothpaste that makes the difference.  As a matter of fact, there are ingredients in toothpaste that can be harmful.

Most of us don’t think twice about the ingredients in our toothpaste or mouthwash, but did you know that your mouth is one of the most absorbent places in the entire body?  This is why some medications are administered sublingually, or under the tongue.  So, it is critical to also consider the ingredients that are in your toothpaste and other oral-care products.  These harmful, even toxic, ingredients are absorbed through the oral mucosa even though we eventually spit them out.  

Let’s take a look at the ingredients that have been deemed harmful by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and The Cornucopia Institute and are found in both the big market brands and some “natural” brands.  Both of these non-profit organizations are environmental investigators, which specialize in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic ingredients and chemicals for the consumer and the farmer.  

Ingredients to watch out for:

Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Sweeteners

Carrageenan

DEA (diethanolamine), Related Compounds

and Nitrosamines Contamination

Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

GMO-Based Ingredients

Parabens

PEGs (polyethylene glycols) and Propylene

Glycol

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium

Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Triclosan

Fluoride (see explanation below)

Microbeads

According to the Cornucopia Institute’s in depth research on toothpaste and other oral-care ingredients, they feel that Americans are kept in the dark about the safety of personal-care products used on our bodies and in our mouths.  Well, this is exactly how I felt until I did some research.  Let’s not assume that these big brands have our best interest in mind, as a matter of fact, it’s more about cheap ingredients and big profits.

“The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not systematically assess the safety of personal care products. The $71 billion cosmetics industry reviews, assesses, and evaluates its own products—self-regulating in the absence of strong and meaningful federal regulatory oversight. The U.S. lags behind many other countries in cosmetic safety, allowing the use of hazardous chemicals banned in Canada, Japan, and Europe.”  - The Cornucopia Institute

Dental professionals are given free samples of toothpaste, floss and mouthwash by the reps of “big brand” companies.  This creates an illusion that these are the best products to use because your dentist or hygienist gives these samples to you at your dental visit.  It wasn’t until I had done some research that I realized I was wrong in thinking these were ideal products to use, and I am sure most dentists are in the dark as well.

“The American Dental Association is heavily subsidized by the cosmetic industry, creating a conflict of interest. Its seal does not guarantee the safety of toothpastes, or other oral products, or the quality of the ingredients in these products.”- The Cornucopia Institute

Let’s address the issue of fluoride for a moment. This is a very controversial compound and while I leave choosing to use fluoride up to you, here are a few things you need to know.  Tooth decay is the nation’s most widespread health problem and fluoride has been proven to strengthen enamel and prevent cavities.  Some opponents feel it should not be put into our water, as it is “mass medicating” and too much fluoride is toxic.  People that use excessive fluoride or are overexposed can suffer tooth, joint and bone damage. Scientists have associated high fluoride consumption with reproductive and developmental system damage, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption and bone cancer.

Kids under 2 years old are most at risk and should be instructed not to swallow toothpaste.  Unless instructed by your dentist, it may be wise to use fluoride-free toothpaste until they are old enough to spit it out.  It’s best to give kids nourishing foods that help to strengthen enamel such as yogurt (no added sugar), cheese, foods high in vitamin C (like oranges and kiwi) and crunchy vegetables like carrots and celery, which clean the teeth by chewing them. And by all means, avoid giving them sugary drinks and foods!

So what toothpaste should we use? The Cornucopia Institute’s Behind the Dazzling Smile list has rated these toothpastes to be the safest:

For a list of The Environment Working Group approved toothpastes, click here

We are exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis.  In order to live a healthy life, we need to reduce the toxic load on our bodies as much as possible. While it is impossible to avoid all toxins, it is important to be proactive in reducing toxic exposure through things within our control. We can do this by choosing organic foods and recognizing problematic and potentially toxic ingredients in our personal health care products.  The task may seem daunting, but start with your toothpaste and take it “product at a time”.  Before you know it, you’ll have created a healthier environment for you and your family.  Be well and keep smiling!