If you are trying to decide whether natural toothpaste is a good choice for you—and your family—you are smart to deliberate. While natural toothpaste eschews many chemicals that are of questionable benefit, it can also leave out the one chemical you actually do want in your toothpaste—fluoride. A naturally occurring tooth-strengthening mineral, the American Dental Association (ADA) states that “Fluoride is effective in preventing and reversing the early signs of dental caries (tooth decay),” the only toothpaste ingredient to garner such high praise.
As par for the course with personal care products, a lack of FDA guidelines means nearly any toothpaste can call itself "natural.” It’s prudent to be skeptical of all label claims and read the ingredients for yourself. And don’t be swayed by the ADA seal: Toothpaste makers pay to apply for the seal, so the absence doesn't necessarily indicate a brand’s quality.
The argument for opting for toothpaste free of harmful chemicals is compelling. Your mouth and gums absorb your toothpaste’s ingredients—even if you don’t swallow it—and act as a superhighway to every system in your body. Many skincare manufacturers have started leaving out harmful chemicals such as parabens, triclosan, phthalates, and artificial dyes, which are only applied topically to skin. How much worse are these chemicals when ingested? If you do want toothpaste that truly skews natural, you need to know what to be on the lookout for.
Here is a shortlist of five of the most common chemicals found in conventional toothpaste that have no place in any natural toothpaste worthy of the name:
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a popular toothpaste ingredient, is a detergent that makes toothpaste foamy. It’s used in many personal care products such as cleansers and shampoos because it functions as a detergent. It’s also considered a carcinogen as well as a known eye and skin irritant.
Classified as a pesticide by the FDA, triclosan is still commonly added to toothpastes and antibacterial products. While long-term research in humans is lacking, several studies of the effects of triclosan in mice and rats show that it has an adverse effect on hormone regulation such as reduced fertility and increased cancer risk.
A key ingredient in antifreeze, propylene glycol acts as a wetting agent and surfactant in toothpaste. Found in many conventional toothpaste brands, its known to cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis as well as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities with repeated exposure.
Diethanolamine, or DEA, is another commonly used foaming agent linked to liver tumors and hormone disruption with repeated exposure.
Artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors, and flavors
Regular toothpastes often have artificial additives such as Blue #1, Yellow #5 or other FD&C colorants, saccharine, benzoic acid and artificial flavors and preservatives. None of these additives are necessary; all are suspect. Parabens are considered endocrine disruptors and linked to reproductive issues and numerous forms of cancer. Artificial sweeteners, once banned in several countries, offer dubious benefits and may be potentially harmful. Emerging research suggests that people who frequently consume sugar substitutes may be at an increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Finally, artificial colors, deemed a “rainbow of risk” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have been associated with hyperactivity, anxiety, migraines and cancer (Yellow 5, Red 40 and six others dyes has already been banned in Norway, Finland, France, Austria and the U.K).
Why risk a bad taste in your mouth from toxic toothpaste? There are plenty of viable alternatives on the market that use naturally derived ingredients that are so much easier to swallow. Or, try making your own all-natural homemade toothpaste.