I wrote last week on the controversy over root canals, and how to prevent cavities in the first place. But you might wonder, can’t we prevent cavities just by brushing and flossing frequently enough?

It’s true that the mechanical action of brushing and flossing removes food particles that might otherwise feed bad bacteria. That is part of the battle. But the other part is 1) give the teeth the building blocks they need to repair themselves (remineralize)—which means, give them the right minerals, and 2) remove the obstacles to cure (the bad bacteria, mostly opportunists). Brushing does some of this, but the other, arguably more important part is making sure the good bacteria populations in the mouth remain strong enough to keep the opportunists in check.

Toothpaste Ingredients: Helpful or Harmful?

The brushing action itself is useful… but the toothpaste you’re using generally lacks the mineral building blocks the teeth need for repair, or even leeches minerals from your teeth. Most of them prevent remineralization from occurring by creating a film over your teeth so that the minerals can’t do their work.

To top it off, most of them are also full of toxins. This is a big deal, because chemicals that get absorbed through the mucosa in your mouth or through your skin don’t go through what’s called “first pass metabolism” like the things you eat do. What you eat stops at your liver for filtration before it’s allowed into your bloodstream, but anything absorbed through your gums goes there directly. Therefore, you want to be extra careful what you brush your teeth with, or what you put on your skin! Here are some common toothpaste ingredients to stay away from.

  • Artificial Sweeteners:Collectively these are associated with leukemia, brain tumors, breast cancer, bladder cancer, uterine and ovarian cancer, skin cancer, immune dysfunction, DNA damage, preterm delivery, and neurological problems.
  • Triclosan: This antibiotic has been associated with thyroid disruption. It also can form toxic byproducts when combined with the chlorine in water, such as carcinogenic dioxins. (That means it’s been linked with cancer.)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate: This ingredient gives toothpaste its foam. It’s another suspected carcinogen, and is linked to kidney and liver damage (and is associated with frequent UTIs), nervous system disruption, eye damage, eczema and dermatitis, and is also linked with SLE (Lupus). It’s also an insecticide.
  • Fluoride: hailed as a treatment for cavities, this endocrine disruptor also happens to be the most reactive element on the periodic table. This means it has great potential for disrupting enzymatic functions in your body.
  • Propylene Glycol: also found in antifreeze, paint, and enamels, and is toxic to the nervous system.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA): used as emulsifiers and foaming agents, upon absorption, this become nitrosamines, which can cause cancer. They are also endocrine disruptors.
  • Glycerin: this ingredient isn’t toxic, but it leaves a film on the teeth so that the mineral-deficient spot on the teeth is inaccessible to the calcium and phosphorus in the saliva. This inhibits repair from happening.

Alternatives: Feed Your Teeth

There are a number of great recipes 1, 2, 3 that can be found online for making your own toothpaste—eliminating the nasty additives, and ensuring adequate micronutrients. Lately I’ve been using a recipe involving clays and essential oils myself!