There is more to a tube of toothpaste than its benefits (tarter control, whitening, complete formula, etc.) and its flavor. Go to your local mass merchandiser, and peruse the toothpaste packages. In addition to some familiar but controversial ingredients--fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate (the stuff that makes the paste turn foamy)--you'll find seven main components in conventional mass-market toothpastes: detergents, abrasives, moisturizers, sweeteners, dyes, preservatives and anti-plaque substances. Most usually come with long chemical names. By contrast, natural toothpastes offer consumers products that are free of the ingredients found in their more mainstream counterparts. For why these ingredients make some people uneasy, turn the page. For some smart natural toothpaste options, start below.
fluoride or no fluoride
There has been a long-running debate between the American Dental Association and anti-fluoride activists about whether fluoride should be routinely added to toothpastes and to the water supply. In industrial-sized quantities, fluoride is a toxic pollutant. And excessive use of fluoride in small children has been shown to discolor teeth, often permanently. To prevent this, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in the May 1995 issue of Pediatrics, suggested infants not be exposed to fluoride. But mainstream dental experts believe fluoride's anti-cavity effects far outweigh its risks; however, many holistic dentists disagree and support natural treatments.
"Sodium lauryl sulfate is predominantly used as a foaming agent in shampoos and mass-market toothpastes," says Gary Verigin, DDS, a member of the Holistic Dental Association in Escalon, California. But sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a skin irritant. Agents in SLS are strong enough to break down engine grease, not to mention oils in the skin. If this occurs, the skin-drying effect can lead to irritation and make the skin susceptible to toxins from the environment. In laboratory tests of SLS, most skin irritations have been recorded at 0.5 percent concentrations-1/60th of the amount found in most mass-market hand soaps.
Ingesting sodium lauryl sulfate, an active ingredient in popular toothpastes, has been linked to a range of health problems, including eye infections and hormone imbalances. While people spit out foamy toothpaste residue, sodium lauryl sulfate can penetrate the mouth's mucosal lining--which has as much as a 90 percent absorption rate--and seep into blood vessels.
Ironically, most mass-market toothpastes contain sugars, which are added for flavor but contribute to cavities. Most natural toothpastes get their fresh taste from plant extracts--such as parsley, cinnamon oil, mint and xylitol--which are healthier alternatives.
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