In 2013 I had to have oral surgery, a gum graft behind my lower front teeth to correct a receding gum line… Having only had 2 cavities in my entire life (don’t hate me) I was devastated. (Interesting side note: according to my dental hygienist, apparently people who are not prone to cavities are often prone to periodontal disease… who knew?). As a result of my gum loss I developed sensitivity to heat/cold as well as when brushing my teeth. So like all good little patients I began using the recommended toothpaste, Sensodyne. It helped but is expensive compared to regular toothpaste so when I would run out I would often just use what we had on hand and my sensitivity would come back. By this point I had started to embark on my crunchy journey so I started doing a little research into toothpaste.
What I first discovered is that my Sensodyne did not have one ingredient common in nearly all toothpaste brands, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS, along with Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLES) and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALS), are detergents that are commonly added to personal hygiene products such as shampoo, toothpastes, mouthwash, body wash, soaps, etc. to help create a lather and make the products more effective at cleaning. In fact, these ingredients are so effective that they are often included in industrial strength detergents and engine degreasers!!! Say what!?! By this point I had already begun my low-poo journey (more on that at a later date) because I wanted to avoid SLS and similar sulfates in my shampoo but I was still putting it in my mouth!?! So naturally, I vowed to never use an SLS toothpaste again! But my research wasn’t over yet.
Next I began to read about fluoride. I’m a child of the 80’s and remember getting fluoride gel treatments as a regular dental procedure to help strengthen my teeth. Walk down any toothpaste aisle at the supermarket and it’s all about “Now with added Fluoride for extra cavity protection!” So, fluoride is good right? Not necessarily. Fluoride does help strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities but in excess can be toxic. In fact, before it was used in toothpaste it was also used as an insecticide and rat poison.
But first, a history lesson: Tooth powders and toothbrushes came into popular use in the 19th century in Britain. By the 1900’s a mixture of using a baking soda and hydrogen peroxide was the general recommendation for use with a toothbrush. Pre-mixed pastes were available but did not gain in popularity until after WWI, most likely due to lack of financial means, access, and/or education on proper dental care. Fluoride was first added to toothpaste in the 1980’s by a German company based on the research of chemist Albert Deninger. Surprisingly, a similar recipe was developed by a US company in 1937 and was highly criticized by the American Dental Association (ADA). It wasn’t until the 1950’s that a fluoridated toothpaste was approved by the ADA and Proctor & Gamble’s original Crest formula entered the market as the first fluoridated toothpaste in America.
As awareness of the potential benefits of fluoride for dental health began to spread, the US Public Health Service (PHS) realized that many American’s didn’t have the financial means to purchase the new fluoridated toothpaste or access to proper dental care and in the 1940’s and 50’s they started added fluoride to community drinking water under the assumption that it was the main way that many US residents would have access to fluoride. Since that time the incidents of dental decay have, in fact, decreased in the US and thus “led to the development of fluoride-containing products, including toothpaste (i.e., dentifrice), mouthrinse, dietary supplements, and professionally applied or prescribed gel, foam, or varnish. In addition, processed beverages, which constitute an increasing proportion of the diets of many U.S. residents, and food can contain small amounts of fluoride, especially if they are processed with fluoridated water. Thus, U.S. residents have more sources of fluoride available now than 50 years ago (CDC, 2001).”
But is the decrease due to the addition of fluoride in the water or to increased education about proper dental hygiene? During the same time frame, the incidents of dental decay has also decreased in most industrialized nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Iceland and Greece – yet the ONLY one that adds fluoride to the public drinking water is the US.
Why is this a concern? The PHS has set recommendations for the “optimally adjusted concentration of fluoride” in public drinking water as ranging from 0.7 ppm to 1.2 ppm. Being aware that too much fluoride can be toxic, and having a responsibility to protect the safety and quality of our drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come in and set a maximum limit of 4 ppm and a “secondary limit (i.e., nonenforceable guideline)” at 2 ppm (CDC, 2001). This doesn’t take into account any of the additional fluoride that we are exposed to in our daily diet and hygiene. So clearly, we are getting more than the “optimally adjusted concentration of fluoride” daily.
So what happens if we are exposed to too much fluoride? Ironically, too much fluoride can cause your teeth to yellow and crumble. In addition, it can enhance the absorption of aluminum which presents concerns of Alzheimer’s disease, and has even been linked to cancer deaths (I don’t know the specifics of these studies so I can’t comment on the research). And the FDA knows that fluoride in excess can lead to significant health problems, as evidenced by the FDA’s warnings on toothpaste read: “Keep out of the reach of children less than 6 years of age. In case of accidental ingestion, seek professional assistance or contact poison control center immediately.” In fact, the ADA advises to only use a “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste with children 24 months and older (although they are now encouraging prevention beginning even younger than 2 due to a rising number of cavities in youth) to prevent enamel fluorosis, a developmental disturbance of dental enamel caused by the consumption of excess fluoride during tooth development. Since children often do swallow their toothpaste while learning about proper dental hygiene, several non-fluoride children’s toothpastes have entered the US market.
Another concerning ingredient in traditional toothpaste is Triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that is also often found in soaps, hand sanitizers, as well as detergents and other cleaning agents. It has received a great deal of media attention lately because it has been linked to health concerns, such as liver and thyroid dysfunction. In addition, the American Medical Association has even discouraged the use of Triclosan in the home as it’s antibacterial properties may contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Given the concerns with a number of ingredients in traditional toothpaste I thought surely I can DIY this… besides, plenty of people brush their teeth with baking soda – hell, it’s even an added ingredient in many toothpaste brands. So I set out to find the perfect toothpaste recipe. I’ve been using the same recipe for over a year now and I’m proud to say that I have no cavities and even my dental hygienist approves! I’ve recently modified my toothpaste recipe to add Thieves oil because it helps kill germs and bacteria that can thrive in the little nooks and crannies between your teeth. Below is my new and improved DIY toothpaste recipe!
DIY Thieves Toothpaste:
- 4-6 tablespoons coconut oil
- 6 tablespoons baking soda
- ½ – 1 small packet of stevia powder (1 packet = 1 tsp)
- 2-5 drops Thieves oil – buy it here
- 10-20 drops of peppermint oil* – buy it here
(oils can be adjusted to taste)
Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl, using a fork.
*Add about half of the amount of peppermint oil to start, and test the toothpaste to see how much you want/like. Using part spearmint oil will make the toothpaste not as “hot” as using all peppermint oil. The stevia gives a sweet taste (which most toothpastes have). The baking soda taste isn’t over-powering, but it is there — and the toothpaste definitely works well! It doesn’t foam, however. Since coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, the toothpaste becomes liquid when you brush, and coats the teeth well. The oil is very runny, though, and doesn’t leave the mouth feeling greasy in the least. It will, however, stick to your bathroom sink if you use cold water to rinse. I definitely recommend using warm water with this toothpaste!
Note: If you are a nursing mom you may want to avoid using peppermint oil as there is some evidence that it can cause a decrease in your milk supply. That stated, I’ve used it every day since I had my baby and haven’t noticed any difference (but I produce milk like a Jersey cow!).
–Modified from several sources, including http://www.tammysrecipes.com/homemade_toothpaste and http://www.growing4hisglory.com/homemade-thieves-toothpaste.html
See the CDC’s “Recommendations for Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Dental Caries in the United States” (2001) here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5014a1.htm
Get more information about Triclosan here from the Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-triclosan
Read more about sulfates in your personal hygiene products here: http://slsfree.net/
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products and techniques mentioned here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help. Consult with the health authorities of your choice for treatment.