We all know the importance of brushing our teeth and maintaining good oral hygiene. It is so important we often feel guilty if we neglect to floss; a little “pasty” if we forget to brush. We remind our children to brush before bed and we do it at least twice a day. We spend a lot of time and thought regarding the health of our teeth. But what if all this good energy is helping our teeth but harming our overall health?
To understand how this is possible, we first need to look at the ingredients in toothpaste. Unfortunately, to get the complete list you will need to step across the border or call a friend or relative living in the US because, in Canada, toothpaste companies don’t have to inform us of all the ingredients.
Next, we need to understand the possible effects the ingredients can have on our health so we can make informed choices. We can start by looking at some common toothpaste ingredients: sodium monofluorophosphate, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, fcd blue #1, and cd yellow #10.
What’s in There?
Sodium monofluorophosphate, also known as fluoride, has a long list of possible health concerns. The chronic ingestion of fluoride can cause skeletal fluorosis, a crippling bone disease in which the bones are severely weakened. Some researchers are even examining fluoride accumulation in osteoporosis sufferers to see if there is a possible link.
The potential risks associated with sodium monoflorophosphate are apparently so great that the US Food and Drug Administration requires the following warning be placed on products containing fluoride: “If more then the amount used for brushing is accidentally swallowed get medical help or contact poison control right away. Keep away from children under six years old.”
Sodium lauryl sulfate can accumulate in eye tissue and some believe it is linked to cataracts. It has also been found to accumulate in the brain and liver as well as other tissue.
Parabens are chemical preservatives that can exert estrogenic activity on breast cells and are believed to be linked to breast cancer.
Synthetic colours, like fcd blue #1 and cd yellow #10, may produce hyperactivity or worsen behavioural problems in children. Long-term use of some dyes is also believed to cause or aggravate allergies, asthma, hives, and thyroid tumours.
It is tempting to assume the risks don’t apply if you never swallow your toothpaste, but according to the Physician’s Desk Reference Manual (Thomson Healthcare Inc, 2003), “Oral absorption can be up to 90-percent effective because the blood capillaries are very close to the surface in the inside of your mouth.” So, the ingredients in your toothpaste can end up in your blood stream whether you swallow it or not.
Since we still need to brush our teeth, what do we do? Luckily there are companies that use high-quality, safe ingredients, including:
- calcium carbonate-a natural mineral used to gently clean teeth
- baking soda-a gentle abrasive that leaves your teeth feeling smooth after you brush
- silica-a mild abrasive that helps remove plaque
- stevia-a natural herbal sweetener without the harmful effects of artificial alternatives
- xylitol-an important ingredient because it is believed to reduce decay causing bacteria and enhances remineralization
- tea tree and neen-both contain antibacterial properties which help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Now that you are equipped with your lists of ingredients, you will be better able to make educated choices about the toothpaste you use. Start by examining the ingredients list of your favourite toothpaste and consider some natural alternatives. Your body will appreciate it.
Other tips to maintain healthy teeth include replacing your toothbrush regularly and asking your dentist to demonstrate the proper techniques to brush and floss. You can also treat your teeth by occasionally brushing with acidophilus, a form of good bacteria some believe helps prevent cavities.
Your teeth are important; they are the first step in achieving good digestion. The break down of food begins in the mouth. The more we chew, the better the cell walls get broken down, preparing the food for the digestive system and helping the body to receive all the food’s nutrients. With education and informed choices, there need not be a conflict between oral health and overall health.