Toothpaste is a type of cleaning agent that comes in a non-recyclable collapsible plastic or aluminium tube, usually in the form of paste or gel, which we put on our toothbrush and use to clean our teeth. It has been used since ancient times and its main purpose is to reinforce gums, polish our teeth to protect them against carries and keep them white, as well as to freshen our breath.
So what is wrong with toothpaste?
To start with, it is estimated that worldwide we are responsible for sending 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes to the landfill each year. Add to it the recyclable, but completely useless boxes the tubes come in and imagine the amount of trees, resources and energy that could be saved just by changing its packaging back to a glass jar it used to be when it came into general use in the 19th century.
But it is not only the packaging that is worrisome. We take for granted that toothpaste is safe to put in our mouth, but is it really? Have you ever wondered why is it not recommended for children to use until they are able to properly spit it out? Well, not surprisingly, the reason is that most mainstream brands of toothpaste contain harmful or even toxic ingredients that may impact our health when swallowed.
But wait a minute, is swallowing indeed the only issue? It is well known that the oral mucosal lining is incredibly permeable and absorptive. So much so, that when people are not able to get nutrients through diet or via supplements, they are given sublingual vitamins for fast uptake by the bloodstream. That is because the mucosal film in our mouth is a gateway for nutrients or toxins to enter our systems and organs. So even if we do not swallow toothpaste, just by keeping it in our mouth for a short time, the potentially toxic substances it contains can easily make their way into our body and impact our health.
Which toxic substances?
Conventional toothpastes contain a long list of ingredients. But, how many of these are essential, irreplaceable and actually help to keep your teeth healthy? And which ones shall we watch out for?
To help fight plaque germs that can cause gingivitis, this chemical and pesticide is an active ingredient in toothpastes that comes with safety concerns, such as decrease in thyroid hormones, increase in antibiotic resistance, and, when combined with chlorine in tap water, it forms chloroform, which classifies as a probable human carcinogen. Do we really need to expose ourselves to these risks, even though it can be safely replaced for example by coconut oil?
Sodium lauryl sulphate
Originally used to clean floors, this is a foaming agent used in toothpaste to evenly disperse the ingredients and promote foaming, as well as help with effective rinsing and removal of mouth debris. Its downsides are that it may aggravate gums, lead to canker sores and it is contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a by-product of the manufacturing process, which is also a possible carcinogen. Knowing the risks, couldn’t we just skip it altogether and give up on the foaminess?
This chemical is being added to toothpastes in order to soften them. But do they really need to get softened by the main active ingredient in antifreeze, paint, industrial enamel, and airplane de-icer products, also known for being a skin, eye, and lung irritant and having been linked to damage to the central nervous system, liver and heart? Is there no other way?
Not surprisingly, this is the most controversial ingredient on this list, because of claims that it helps to re-mineralise teeth. But it is known to be harmful in large amounts and multiple studies linked it to several health risks. Also, given, there are ingredients that can fill the same role, such as crushed cacao nibs as well as the fact that nowadays fluoride is already being added to most tap water supplies, it turns out to be redundant and unnecessary in toothpaste, even leading to a potential overdose.
Artificial sweeteners and colourings
In terms of sweeteners, saccharin and aspartame are most commonly found in commercial toothpastes. They are linked to diabetes, obesity, bladder cancer, and even the death of brain cells. Vivid red, green and blue colours in toothpaste are usually achieved through artificial food dyes, while the bright white comes from inorganic compounds, such as titanium dioxide, often linked to hyperactivity disorders in children. All of these are only added for taste and colour and turn out to be completely useless when it comes to keep your teeth in good shape, leaving us with a doubt whether it is safe for them to be absorbed by oral tissues.
Unfortunately, the list of harmful ingredients could be much longer. We stop here, because we believe that the top five are already a good enough reason to skip the conventional tube and look for natural alternatives or even start making your own toothpaste. Additionally, most commercial toothpastes are highly abrasive, leading to enamel damages, as well as making teeth sensitive and more prone to gum recession and cavities. Feels counterproductive, doesn’t it?
Ready to skip the tube?
When it comes to waste, homemade toothpastes are the perfect zero waste solution, as these are stored in glass jars or stainless steel containers that can be washed and reused infinitely. As for the ingredients, they allow you to keep it simple, natural and immediately take control of what you put in your mouth. They also tend to be much less abrasive than regular toothpastes.
Similarly to other homemade products, it is a piece of cake to make your own toothpaste. It only requires a minute of your time and a few natural ingredients. Calcium carbonate will provide minerals and gently polish your teeth and the antibacterial and antifungal properties of coconut oil will help discourage bacterial growth in the mouth and create a clean, harmonious environment, while at the same time healing bleeding or inflamed gums, preventing cavities, neutralising bad breath and whitening teeth naturally.
Storage & Use
- Occasionally, you might need to stir the mixture before use
- Apply a pea-sized amount to your toothbrush with a spoon