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Fluoride has made the news (again) recently, for potentially being linked to autism in children to being under fire in U.S. Federal Court because of dental fluorosis.

An ongoing concern is the safety of water fluoridation, with some cities actively fighting fluoridation of their drinking water, such as Portland, OR.

But this got me thinking about the toothpaste we use, which might also contain fluoride—as well as other ingredients we should consider avoiding. After all, one of the fastest ways to absorb something into the body is through the mouth. Also, when dangerous ingredients make their way down the drain, they can wreak havoc on the ecosystem and harm wildlife. 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

There seems to be a general consensus among health advocates—from Environmental Working Group to Dr. Oz—about avoiding triclosan in toothpaste. Triclosan, a possible endocrine disruptor, is an antibacterial agent found in many personal care products and its safety is currently under review by the FDA. No need to worry about losing this particular antibacterial, as brushing and flossing twice a day will remove bacteria.

What else in your toothpaste should raise a red flag?

The Eco-Dentistry Association emphasizes the important step we should all be taking: Read your labels! Here’s their list of some of the common ingredients found in toothpastes (and other oral care products like mouthwash and lip balms) you should consider avoiding, beyond triclosan:

  •  FD&C color pigments—Synthetic coloring agent made from coal tar that can be found in a multitude of personal care products. Known carcinogen.

  • Propylene glycol—The EPA considers this ingredient so toxic that for handling, it requires gloves, protective clothing, goggles and disposal by burying.

  • Parabens—May play a role in sterility in males, hormone imbalances and breast cancer.

  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate—Has been implicated in oral conditions, including canker sores and bad breath. It’s the stuff that makes some toothpaste foamy.

  • Polyethylene glycol—Linked to production of dangerous levels of dioxin, a cancer-causing agent also known to reduce immunity and cause nervous system disorders.

Cleure adds the following ingredients: saccharin, antimicrobials, chlorine dioxide, sodium hydroxide and salicylates. Also of concern are titanium dioxide and glycerin, which might inhibit remineralization of teeth.

So what then are some alternatives? What should we look for on toothpaste labels? The Eco-Dentistry Association suggests such things as organic aloe vera, which helps clean teeth and gums while soothing your entire mouth, or organic essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus and anise, which are tasty and known for anti-bacterial and breath-freshening properties.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia offers a guide to less toxic products, including toothpaste. The guide includes a list of the “best” toothpastes (that contain no sodium fluoride, artificial sweeteners, dyes, detergents or triclosan) and “good” toothpastes ((fluoride free but may contain one or two common hazardous ingredients). The association also offers this tip: The main way to remove plaque is flossing, not brushing. Brushing with plain water is sufficient as long as you floss.

Want to take it a step further and make your own toothpaste? The most basic material to use is plain baking soda or salt, which are mild abrasives. The Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia advises: Brush with two parts baking soda and one part salt mixed to a fine powder in a blender.

Another common ingredient you might find in homemade toothpaste is coconut oil. Why? Because, as Health Extremist points out, coconut oil is antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal, and it has been shown to destroy the bacteria that can cause tooth decay.

With baking soda and/or coconut oil as main ingredients, here are five toothpaste recipes you can make at home and store in a small container:

Recipe #1

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

  • 2 tablespoons baking soda

  • 10 drops of peppermint oil (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Mix baking soda and coconut oil in a small container, until it forms a paste-like consistency

  2. Add several drops of peppermint oil and mix.

Recipe #2

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground

  • 10 drops peppermint, clove or citrus pure essential oil

  • A few drops of water

Instructions:

  1. Mix all powdered ingredients well in a bowl. If you are starting with tablets, powder them in a food processor. If you are starting with capsules, dump them out into the bowl.

  2. Add oil one part at a time until you get desired consistency.

  3. Add any optional ingredients, including essential oils for flavor.

Recipe #3

Ingredients:

  • 6 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (must be liquid)

  • 10 drops peppermint, clove or citrus pure essential oil

Instructions:

  1. Mix all powdered ingredients well in a bowl. If you are starting with tablets, powder them in a food processor. If you are starting with capsules, dump them out into the bowl.

  2. Add oil one part at a time until you get desired consistency.

  3. Add any optional ingredients, including essential oils for flavor.

Recipe #4

Ingredients:

  • 5 parts calcium magnesium powder

  • 2 parts baking soda

  • 3-5 parts coconut oil to get desired texture

  • Optional ingredients: essential oils for flavor (mint, cinnamon and orange are all good), grapefruit seed extract, myrrh and trace minerals

  • 3 parts xylitol powder—this ingredient is not completely necessary, but just keeps it from tasting bitter

Instructions:

  1. Mix all powdered ingredients well in a bowl. If you are starting with tablets, powder them in a food processor. If you are starting with capsules, dump them out into the bowl.

  2. Add oil one part at a time until you get desired consistency.

  3. Add any optional ingredients, including essential oils for flavor.

Recipe #5

Ingredients

  • Non-hydrogenized virgin coconut oil

  • Baking soda or fine pumice

  • Xylitol (a sweetener that is also proven to have antibacterial properties)

  • Your favorite essential oil

Instructions 

  1. Heat half a cup of the coconut oil over gentle heat.

  2. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the baking soda or 1 tablespoon of the pumice as well as a 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil and the xylitol to taste.

Do you have a toothpaste recipe you swear by?

Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS and HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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