You brush your teeth twice a day, and spit out the toothpaste. And because you spit it out, it doesn't matter whether there are bad ingredients in toothpaste, right?
Sorry to disappoint you, but it does matter. Now, I'm not telling you to give up brushing your teeth. Dental hygiene is important, and it affects your overall health. But if you haven't already, it's probably time to start checking to see if there are any toothpaste toxins in your tube.
Why Should You Worry About Bad Toothpaste Ingredients?
Your mouth is one of the most absorbent parts of your body. Some medications are even administered by putting them under your tongue.
So even though you're spitting out your toothpaste, at least some of the ingredients are being absorbed into your bloodstream.
Before we get on to toxins in toothpaste, let's have a look at what's in your typical toothpaste tube.
What's in Toothpaste?
To get toothpaste in the squeezy tube that we're all used to, there are a few different groups of ingredients that are used.
- Humectants and binders
- Therapeutics (like fluoride)
Toxic Ingredients in Toothpaste: What to Avoid
The Macleans toothpaste that I reviewed has these synthetic colours in it: CI 73360 (D&C Red 30) - scores a 5 in EWG, CI 74260 which is a green and also scores a 5 in EWG, and CI 74160 which is a blue and scores a 4. They're derived from coal tar, they're considered to be toxic, and all they do is make your toothpaste look pretty. You don't need them, so avoid them.
They're not usually toxic, but there's not much benefit to them. Whereas essential oils have other benefits like antibacterial or antifungal properties, you really don't need artificial flavours. Skip them where possible.
Look out for sodium saccharin, and aspartame. Although they're obviously better than sugar to sweeten your toothpaste, some people can have issues if they swallow it. Better choices for sweeteners are xylitol, which is actually good for teeth, and stevia.
Carrageenan, which you'll also see as chondrus crispus extract, can cause issues if you ingest it. As you don't swallow toothpaste, I don't have a problem with it in adult toothpastes. It is worth avoiding in kids' toothpastes, as lots of kids can't or won't spit their toothpaste out.
DEA is a pH adjuster, and it's banned in the EU, but you can still find it in some toothpastes in Australia. There are lots of issues with this one: it's a possible carcinogen; skin irritant; may contain harmful impurities (nitrosamines); may trigger asthma; and studies show endocrine disruption and neuro developmental, brain and nervous system effects. Not a good one, so avoid it.
There's lots of arguments both for and against using fluoride in your toothpaste. Dentists recommend it, but if you live in an area where your water is fluoridated, you might decide to skip the fluoride in your toothpaste. For children under 6 who are still swallowing toothpaste, you might want to choose a toothpaste without fluoride. It's easy to find a good natural non fluoride toothpaste, but harder to find a natural toothpaste with fluoride. But I do have some suggestions, so read on!
Yep, those nasty little pieces of plastic that end up in our waterways and then inside fish are also found in some toothpastes as an abrasive.
You want to avoid parabens in toothpaste. They're a preservative, and although you do need preservatives in toothpaste to keep bacteria at bay, there are better preservatives. Parabens have been linked to hormone disruption, they're possible carcinogens, and they've also been linked to brain nervous system effects.
Propylene glycol helps to keep your toothpaste moist, so that it squeezes easily out of the tube. However, it's skin, eye and lung irritant, and it's a penetration enhancer. That means that it helps other chemicals penetrate more easily into your skin - not so great if you've got toxic ingredients in your toothpaste!
Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate:
Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate is a penetration enhancer, and there can be concerns with nitrosamine contamination. This ingredient only scores a 3 in EWG, so it's not a big concern, but it might be one to watch out for, especially if there are other not-so-great ingredients in the toothpaste.
Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES):
SLES is a surfactant and foaming agent. It acts like a detergent to clean dirt off your teeth. It's a skin irritant and a penetration enhancer, and it can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane. Another one that I avoid.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS):
SLS is also surfactant and foaming agent. It's a skin irritant, but it scores low in EWG (1-2) so it's not toxic. Personally, I find it very irritating, so I always look for an SLS free toothpaste. If you don't find it irritating, you might be okay with this one.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles:
Titanium dioxide is used to make toothpaste look whiter. There are some concerns about titanium nanoparticles, specifically the additive E171. As they're so small, they may be able to pentrate your gums. Non-nano is fine, nano is not fine. You may also see it listed in the ingredients as CI 77891.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent and a preservative. It's a possible endocrine disrupter, an immune system toxicant and it's a skin irritant. It scores a 7 in EWG, so you really don't want to be using triclosan toothpaste.
Non toxic toothpaste ingredients
Here are some ingredients that look scary, but actually aren't.
Activated charcoal is an abrasive and helps remove surface stains on teeth. You can get bamboo charcoal toothpaste and coconut charcoal toothpaste, but there's not really much difference between the two. It's become so popular that I'm writing a whole separate cheat sheet to help you find the best charcoal toothpaste.
Hydroxyapatite is a biocompatible material that naturally occurs in bones, teeth and saliva as a mineral form of calcium apatite. It helps remineralise teeth, so this is a good one to have in toothpaste. There are some studies that show it remineralises teeth better than fluoride.
Potassium nitrate is used for tooth sensitivity, and is considered the safest active ingredient for sensitive teeth. It's not recommended for children, though.
Titanium dioxide in it's non nano form is harmless, so this is one you don't need to worry about.
Xylitol is a sweetener that also seems to be beneficial in preventing tooth decay, according to some studies.
Natural Alternatives to Toothpaste
You do need to brush your teeth, but you don't need to use toxic toothpaste.
There are lots of great natural toothpastes available, and if you want to use fluoride, it's not that hard to find a good natural toothpaste with fluoride.
Practice good dental hygiene: brush your teeth twice a day, floss your teeth, use a tongue scraper and you can even try oil pulling. Keep an eye on your diet: avoid sugary drinks, drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet. All of these things will help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Looking for a great natural toothpaste? Check out our Natural Toothpaste Cheat Sheet for an indepth review of all the best toothpastes for your family.