If you’re interested in living a more natural lifestyle, you’ve probably made changes like swapping out your chemically cleaning products for greener ones, paying closer attention to the ingredients on food labels or adopting personal care products like deodorant and shampoo that are free from words you can’t pronounce. If toothpaste is next on your all-natural list, there are a few things to keep in mind before making the switch.
Not surprisingly, the ingredients are key, but not just because of how they affect your teeth. “The mucosa, or soft tissues in the mouth like gums, absorb much of what they come in contact with — so it’s important to know what we are putting in our mouths, as it will subsequently be coursing through our bodies,” says Carissa Regnerus, RDH, MA, associate professor and clinical instructor in the department of dental hygiene at the University of South Dakota.
Before diving into the toothpaste aisle, start by talking to your dentist, especially if you’re prone to cavities or other issues like gum disease. “Your dental professional is likely to recommend a toothpaste that is backed by science and is ADA-approved, which means it’s earned the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance,” says Randy Houska, DDS, of Houska Dental Clinic in Vermillion, South Dakota. While there are an increasing number of natural toothpastes that hold this seal, most seal holders are still the traditional pastes that contain ingredients long proven to support strong teeth, healthy gums and overall good oral health. Translation: they’re known to be safe and work.
One of those “traditional” toothpaste ingredients that some people are shunning is fluoride. “Pastes containing fluoride have gotten a bad rap, but it’s a mineral that’s found in all natural water sources, and teeth need it to maintain their strength and make them resistant to decay,” explains Regnerus. “When used as directed, fluoride is safe and effective, but most natural toothpastes don’t include it.”
You can go a little more natural and still get your fluoride fix by looking for natural toothpastes that still contain it, or mixing both a natural and conventional toothpaste into your daily routine. “Try using one in the morning and the other type at night,” says Michaela Tozzi, DMD, a dentist in Henderson, Nevada. “Regardless of what toothpaste a person chooses, effective brushing and flossing techniques are the backbone of adequate oral hygiene.”
But if you’re dead set on going completely “natural” and doing your own research, it’s helpful to know what ingredients do what. Whitney Rose DiFoggio, RDH, star and creator of Teeth Talk Girl YouTube Channel, highlights some biggies to look out for:
There is also one ingredient to be cautious about, and ideally, avoid: charcoal. “Charcoal has been advertised as a ‘trendy’ way to whiten teeth, but it’s definitely not a safe way because it’s highly abrasive, meaning it can lead to loss of tooth enamel overtime. When the enamel of the tooth is depleted, the dentin layer is exposed — and ironically, dentin is yellow, so you may end up with a yellower smile than what you started out with,” says DiFoggio.
And one last pro tip: "If you do prefer to use a natural toothpaste lacking in fluoride, it's a good idea to consider supplementing with either a self-applied topical fluoride, such as a mouthrinse or gel, or a professionally applied topical fluoride," Dr. Houska adds.
If you do want to test-brush a more natural paste, these are some of the best to try: