Head to Toe: It Begins In Your Mouth
I FEEL AS THOUGH NON-TOXIC DENTAL CARE IS PERHAPS LESS OFTEN DISCUSSED in the green beauty sphere. Certainly, it's less glamourous I'll give you that—good oral care may bring back memories of your parents doing their best to hammer into you good hygiene habits, with daily "post-brush" examinations, mouth open wide, and arguments to follow over how "effective" your brushing is and whether a do-over is required. But childhood anecdotes aside, good health is truly connected to your mouth: if the eyes are a window into the soul, the mouth, they say, is a window to your overall general health, connected to all sorts of things from heart disease to healthy pregnancy and baby weight.
But, taking good care of your teeth is not as simple as it may at first seem. The stores overflow with products, all advertising the best of benefits, and yet, you'll be hard-pressed to find an actual, complete list of ingredients on most drug store brands. It's an industry that truly does rely on expert recommendation, and not consumer education, to ensure that you're using a product that won't just prevent tooth decay, but also won't do your body, or the environment, harm by using it.
Some research indicates that we ingest an entire tube of toothpaste over a year. Take that with a grain of salt, but seeing as how I can't seem to get my two-year-old to spit and not swallow, I believe it. That same difficulty makes me super happy that I can trust what's in her toothpaste!
Toothpaste as a product is a lot more than simply a paste to clean your teeth. It's an entire user experience, incorporating visual appearance, taste, texture, and sensation. With that in mind, to achieve this a whole host of ingredients are used in proprietary formulas, each with subtle differences in an effort to win your loyalty. As with many things manufactured on a mass scale in a competitive market, to keep costs low, chemicals are used to keep things cheap, cheerful, and seemingly effective.
But, consider this: your gums are more absorbent than most other parts of your body, meaning that products your brush with, floss with, swish with, and whiten with, end up in your bloodstream even if you're careful not to swallow. Being careful not to bore you with too much detail, the following is a quick snapshot at the biggest problems lurking in your tube of toothpaste (for other oral hygiene products see below):
Microbeads have appeared in the news recently, so perhaps you are already aware of the problems. In case you are not, microbeads are microscopic plastic beads embedded in personal care products, including toothpaste, for exfoliating power. They are said to be gentle, yet effective. The trouble is that they are so small they pass through municipal filtration systems and end up in our water and waterways (and/or your body). There they act as contaminants, containing hormone-disrupting compounds (affecting estrogen in particular) that build up in our bodies and in the foodchain, affecting both wildlife and humans, and contributing to disease including cancer.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent found in a multitude of products, everything from lotion, soap, deodorant, cream, diswashing soap, and yes, toothpaste. Basically anything conventionally labelled as antibacterial probably contains triclosan. First put into use in the 1970s, it has since been found to promote cancer growth in rats and mice, though scientists are hesitant to claim it will do the same in humans. Personally I don't find this worth the risk considering that humans and mice share 92% of their DNA (I know, right?). There are many natural products that fight bacteria just as effectively, such as oregano essential oil or grapefruit seed extract. The other problem with triclosan is that as it washes down the drain and inevitably finds it's way into our waterways, it is wreaking havoc on algae populations and the development of sensitive keystone species, such as frogs. At this time it is a registered pesticide, so, pray tell, what is it doing in our toothpaste? (Colgate Total contains Triclosan).
The debate over fluoride is heated and far from resolved. I personally find the two camps so vastly polarized and at odds that it can be hard to decipher fact from fiction. However, as I'm sure you can guess, my personal opinion is that the less chemicals in our lives, the better. One interesting fact is that fluoride has been found more effective when applied topically than ingested, so if we must use it, then it perhaps has a place in our toothpaste but not in our water. In fact, long term exposure to fluoride is known to cause serious problems in our bones, ironically, from arthritis-type symptoms, reduction in bone density, increased risk of fractures, and even cancer. Fluoride containing toothpastes even direct you to contact a poison control center if more than a pea-sized amount is ingested. That said, it has been proven to harden the enamel on teeth, so you can find even natural toothpaste brands that contain it, good news IF you feel that fluoride is important.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has long been present on the list of dirty ingredients to avoid in personal care products. An industrial strength surfactant, it's sole purpose is to make toothpaste feel foamy, which we have come to equate eroneously with effectiveness. In regards to toothpaste use, it has been linked for some time to increased occurence of canker sores. It is also readily absorbed into the body, and contains compounds that are known carcinogens and can affect normal human development.
*It should also be noted that all the above ingredients also bioaccumulate, meaning that our bodies cannot effectively rid itself of them. Therefore, the effect of them is not yet fully understood, as they exist on a continuum of exposure rates and time.
We all know why we should floss, but floss, just like toothpaste, is graded based on user-friendliness as well as effectiveness. Particularly the glide factor, which is often achieved using Teflon or PFCs, a known hazardous and carcinogenic ingredient. Choose instead a floss waxed with natural waxes, either vegetable or beeswax. Two brands we recommend are Dr. Tung's Smart Floss (shown in picture), which is amazing to use, or Eco Dent. Dr. Tung's floss comes packaged in biodegradable plastic, while Eco Dent is packaged in recylable cardboard, although in both cases the floss itself is made of nylon.
Many of the same problematic ingredients are also found in mouthwash. Skip commercial brands altogether and instead simply use saltwater or use a natural alternative. Some also swear by oil pulling with coconut oil. I myself have had good results, this is the brand of oil we recommend.
Several months ago I was given the opportunity to try Living Libations' dental care line, which I was THRILLED about as it doesn't get more natural than founder Nadine Artemis's wonderful products—a few of them are shown in the photos accompanying this feature. Nadine is also the author of a short but intensely informative book called Holistic Dental Care—The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, in which she teaches that teeth are not inert bones, but actually living and directly linked to your digestive system—research can now prove that substances ingested through the mouth will actually appear within the tissue of the teeth in a very short time, turning the idea that cavities are caused purely by sugar coming in contact with the teeth on it's head. It is, in actuality, very simple: cavities are caused by poor nutrition and a diet comprised of processed and refined foods. The relationship between your health and your teeth is actually quite intricate, and Nadine's book is worth reading simply to know and understand more.
Nadine's oral care system is comprised of 8 simple steps, and her products are designed to support them by helping to deep clean your mouth, strengthening and remineralizing your saliva, teeth, and gums, all with only the purest and natural essential oils. My honest review is that, while the taste and texture may take a small amount of getting used to if you are switching from foamy, conventional brands of toothpaste, your teeth have never felt cleaner, your mouth happier, and soon you will never go back. The potency of the products means that a little goes a long way, and despite their diminuitive size, they will last for quite some time. Using her products, my routine now consists of (which is a mildly abbreviated version of her 8 steps):
- Saltwater Rinse
- Scraping the Tongue (using a drop of Happy Gum Drops on the scraper)
- Dry Brushing the Gums (using another drop of Happy Gum Drops on the brush)
- Brushing the Teeth using the Happy Gums Clay Toothpaste or Truth Tooth Powder Polish
- Flossing (using one more drop of Happy Gum Drops on the floss)
- Final Saltwater Rinse
Interested in trying Happy Gum Drops? You're in luck! Living Libations has offered one up to a lucky reader, simply enter a comment below to enter. **GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED
OTHER BRANDS WE TRUST:
If you are looking for another brand of toothpaste that you can find at your typical natural food store, here is another that we've tried. Do you have a favourite? Share in the comments below and help your fellow reader out with a recommendation.
Dr. Bronner's: Their low-foaming formula has no synthetic detergent foaming agents, is fluoride-free, vegan and cruelty-free, with no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners
Green Beaver: This is another Canadian company that we like, the Spearmint flavour is our favourite. It is free-from fluoride, SLS, triclosan, GMO ingredients, chemical preservatives, artificial flavors, dyes or sweeteners.
MAKE YOUR OWN
If you're interested in a super duper affordably option that is also packaging free, make your own! I would suggest you still invest in Living Libations' Happy Gum Drops essential oil mix, and use it to make the following recipe:
Combine in a small mason jar:
- 3 Tbsp. Organic Coconut Oil (softened but not melted)
- 2 Tbsp. Baking Soda
- 10-20 Drops of Happy Gum Drops
- OR 20 Drops of Peppermint Essential Oil
Mix until smooth.
To use: put a pea-sized amount on a dry toothbrush.
NOTE: at first this will take some getting used to. It's saltier than you would expect, but your teeth will feel pretty great afterward. Some like to add a few drops of liquid stevia sweetener to help make the paste more palatable—I have found this unnecessary.