There are so many brands of toothpaste out there advertising different benefits. How do you pick the best one for you? Many natural brands boast being free of certain ingredients. I’m going to discuss these ingredients and whether or not you should be avoiding them.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, meaning that it has one end that grabs onto water and the other grabs onto oil. This helps soaps and toothpastes to grab onto dirt and carry it away. They also create bubbles. Research has found that SLS does not cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you want it in your toothpaste. In my research I found studies that found that SLS decreases the amount of fluoride taken up by the enamel of the teeth thus decreasing its ability to help prevent cavities. It can also cause skin irritation, especially for people who are extra sensitive.
Parabens are preservatives used in toothpaste and other cosmetics. Research shows they are hormone disruptors, which can lead to reproductive issues amongst other health problems. They have also been found in breast cancer tissue and seem to collect in the axilla (armpit), which is the most common area for breast cancer. This doesn’t mean that they have caused the cancer, but it is certainly worrying that they are found, unchanged, in this tissue when they are most commonly used externally. The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Countries have both banned the 5 top parabens. Despite this precedent, and the Australian government acknowledging these potential risks, parabens are still allowed in Australia.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent commonly found in toothpaste and is probably the most important ingredient you should be avoiding. In 2016, the FDA in America banned the use of triclosan and other antibacterial agents in hand soaps. It is still allowed in other products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitizer. It has not been restricted at all in Australia to date. Not only does everyday use of triclosan lead to antibiotic resistance, it persists in the environment creating carcinogenic toxins, it bioaccumulates in the body including in breast milk, it is a hormone disruptor associated with reproductive and developmental issues and it increases sensitivity to allergens. Antimicrobials should only be used if a person has a specific health condition, not everyday. A group of over 200 scientists and medical professionals developed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarbon last year, recommending it be highly restricted. Unfortunately big brand toothpaste manufacturers are still trying to tell you it is safe. Read more about antibacterials in cleaners in my article about cleaning products.
If you are worried about your oral health, using a toothpaste containing Aloe Vera has been found to be as effective as triclosan in reducing plaque and gingivitis without the side effects.
Toothpaste is not meant to be consumed so it is not considered a food. This means it does not have the same rules and restrictions regarding the safety and labelling of ingredients. If you want to avoid the ingredients discussed, you need to pick a toothpaste that specifically says doesn’t contain them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything in my mouth that isn’t safe to swallow. If you have any questions about toothpaste or oral health, talk to your local naturopath.