What You Want (and Don’t Want) in a Toothpaste

toothbrush and toothpastePatients regularly ask us what kind of toothpaste they should use.

Of course, truth be told, you don’t really need toothpaste at all. The mechanical action of brushing is the main way that plaque gets removed. Toothpaste just makes it a little easier, providing some grit to help break up that sticky biofilm.

It can also deliver ingredients that support healthy teeth and gums – as well as ingredients that may do more harm than good.

So what should you look for? And what should you avoid?

What Dr. Yoshida Recommends in a Toothpaste

One of the best ingredients you can have in a paste is baking soda, which naturally creates a healthier pH in the mouth. Acidic foods and drinks damage enamel, leaving the teeth sensitive and more vulnerable to decay. Sugary foods and other hyper-processed carbs also increase acidity in the mouth.

Baking soda lowers it.

Research also suggests that a baking soda toothpaste may remove plaque more effectively than pastes without that ingredient.

bowl of baking sodaBut you don’t necessarily need to buy a baking soda toothpaste. You can just use it plain, dipping a wet toothbrush into the stuff, or you can mix it with coconut and peppermint oil for your own quickie DIY toothpaste.

Other essential oils can be used, as well. Many have well-documented antimicrobial properties, including clove, cinnamon, spearmint, and myrrh oils. Just be sure not to swallow them or any paste you add them to.

Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties, as well, and is great to use for both oil pulling and in your DIY paste.

Dr. Y recommends alternating your baking soda paste with an herbal, fluoride-free paste. There are lots of great options out there. His current favorite is Uncle Harry’s, which has a strong mint flavor, so a little goes a long way.

Whichever brands you consider, just read the labels carefully, and avoid anything with the ingredients discussed later in this post.

Want a little more whitening power than baking soda offers? Activated charcoal is another terrific ingredient. Yes, it can seem a little crazy to think that such a dark ingredient can whiten teeth, yet it’s been shown effective for this, as well as removing plaque, remineralizing teeth, and balancing the oral microbiome.

Now, the Ingredients to Avoid…

toothpaste aisleIf you look at most of the toothpastes available at your local grocery or big box store, you’ll see that the only active ingredient in them is fluoride. You even see it included in some big brand “natural” toothpastes.

As we’ve discussed before, fluoride’s risks vastly outweigh any benefit it might provide when used topically. Research such as this 2017 study in the Journal of Dental Research has shown that while fluoride may slow down the decay process a bit, it doesn’t prevent it.

Because fluoride displaces iodine in the thyroid gland, it can lead hypothyroidism. This causes systemic problems including a lower metabolism which leads to weight gain and fatigue, among other negative health effects.

Another ingredient to steer clear of is sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS for short. SLS is used in all kinds of detergents and cleaning products to create that creamy, foamy sensation we’ve come to associate with cleanliness.

But it’s also a known skin irritant. It can cause both external and internal inflammatory skin reactions, and has been linked to canker sores. Other research has suggested that SLS may cause soft tissue damage.

Glycerin may be added to toothpaste, as well, to keep it moist. While the ingredient is largely safe, there’s some concern that it may change the oral microbiome and inhibit the natural remineralization of your teeth.

Last, Dr. Y recommends you avoid conventional whitening toothpastes. Most contain harsh abrasives to remove surface stains and chemicals to break down stains. Over time, these can weaken or even damage your tooth enamel. They also often contain peroxides, which can dry out the soft tissues in your mouth when used over the long haul.

More, peroxides may accelerate the release of mercury from any “silver” amalgam fillings you have in your mouth.

Opt for the good stuff, steer clear of the bad, and remember: The most important thing is that you brush and floss regularly. Consistency is key for a healthy mouth!

Images by Wagner Cesar Munhoz, Aqua Mechanical, & Amy Gahran, via Flickr

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