For World Environment Day this year, I went along to an event at my old university: Macquarie University. In fact, the event was held at the Lighthouse Theatre which brought back many memories of student plays, late night boogies and flirtations. This is where I met many of my dearest friends and where I also met my husband.
Facilitating my trip down memory lane was Costa Georgiades. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and passion and one thing that he talked about was toothpaste – yes toothpaste. He was talking about how to engage with your family and friends and suggested sticking a tube of toothpaste in the middle of the dinner table during a dinner party and talking about toothpaste – the good and the bad. This has also recently come to light as many of the mothers in my mother’s group are trying to encourage good dental care in their children and are wondering if they should add toothpaste to encourage their toddlers to brush.
Following the event, I did start a conversation with some friends around toothpaste over lunch – but now I’m going one step further and writing this blog with the hope of sharing some of my research.
The use of toothpaste goes back millennia. It has been used to maintain good oral hygiene and different things have been used to achieve this. Usually toothpaste has been used to help in the mechanical motion of brushing. In fact most teeth are cleaned very well with a simple brush without anything, however over time fluoride has been added into the mix. Toothpaste usually includes different ingredients to provide an abrasive surface, thereby allowing the brushing action to be more effective.
Some toothpastes even contain plastic. Micro-beads are tiny plastic particles added to things like toothpastes and exfoliating scrubs for abrasion. In toothpaste they seem to be added only for the ‘pretty’ factor.
These micro-beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene. These plastics don’t break down and are increasingly being found in oceans and waterways. Various states in the US have already banned products with micro-beads, but other places such as Europe and Australia are lagging. There are different players in the cosmetic industry however that are starting to move away from the use of micro-beads in their products. For more on micro-beads, please check out the following links:
Company commitments and Products with and without micro-beads.
The use of micro-beads in toothpastes such as Crest are well known. These pieces of plastic do not breakdown and find their way wedged in small crevices in our mouth. So one of the first things to do in moving towards healthier toothpastes is to not use any toothpaste that has coloured specks in the gel and stay away from any that list polyethylene as an ingredient.
The use of some chemicals in toothpaste and their health impacts is debatable, however I will list some along with a balancing point of view and leave it to you to decide.
Soudium flouride has been added to toothpaste for many years with the intent of avoiding tooth decay. However this is also seen to be a carcinogenic ingredient that when ingested in large quantities can cause paralysis, convulsions and cardiac arrest. Thankfully though, you would have to eat a lot of toothpaste for that to happen though.
Having said that however, it is a major issues, as fluoride is also added to drinking water (LINK) and overuse of fluoride can have the opposite effect of improving dental hygiene by causing dental fluorosis. In the US, this condition was found in 40% of teenagers. For more information on fluoride, please go to: Flouride information
I am now purchasing toothpaste free of fluoride and if you wanted to prevent over-exposure, as stated on the box don’t swallow toothpaste and keep away from children under 6 years of age.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
This product comes from palm oil and is added to toothpaste to create the lovely foamy mouth that you get – giving you that getting clean feeling.
SLS is a corrosive agent that is found in lots of cleaning products and degreasers, so yes, it cuts through plaque, but probably harmful to other parts of your body too and despite best efforts not to swallow toothpaste I’m sure much sneaks in.
This chemical is added to toothpaste for its antibacterial qualities. Triclosan is said to be very toxic to humans and cause cancer and be a skin irritant. In animal tests it’s been shown to impact hormonal regulation.
Other studies that have analysed its use in toothpaste however have stated that it is beneficial to prevent gingivitis. Now could gingivitis be treated another way that isn’t so harmful? Maybe. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the use of triclosam in all products which includes clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys, antibacterial soaps and body washes.
This is added to toothpaste to provide an abrasive surface to take off enamel and stop enamel on your tooth re-minerilising. As you can imagine of course, over-use can take off enamel from your teeth leading to tooth-decay.
If you’d like to read from the other side of the debate – essentially stating that none of these claims are true, please go to: Toothpaste Safety implications and toothpaste and cancer myths.
Overall, I think it’s important to take a balanced view. You can maintain good dental hygiene without toothpaste by using bicarb soda, coconut oil and plain water. The main thing is to brush properly – try this toothbrush jam and groove yourself to better brushing technique.
I’ve already moved my kiddies away from the major brand toothpastes and my toddler doesn’t use toothpaste at all. I probably will continue to use toothpaste – too used to the feeling, but will use ones without these nasties and also will go for a palm oil alternative such as: Riddles Creek Organic toothpaste or Miessence (http://www.miessence.com/shop/en/category/3/body-oral-care), Pure & Green toothpaste