Teeth aren't just for chewing anymore.
In the age of Instagram, it's all about having the most dazzling, perfectly straight smile. A quick inspection of any drugstore aisle will reveal strips, trays, gels, and mouthwashes that all claim to whiten your chompers. And then there's the natural dental hygiene trends like oil pulling, charcoal brushing, and tongue scraping gaining more and more devotees.
But to really achieve the whitest, shiniest, healthiest teeth ever, maybe it's time to take a closer look at the obvious: toothpaste.
It's been ingrained in us almost since birth that we've got to scrub down our teeth morning and evening to keep them clean, fight bad breath, and avoid cavities, plaque and other issues. And that's all true—as long as you're using the right toothpaste. The usual foaming, minty formulas we're used to, though, often contain synthetic chemicals that can be harmful for the human body.
Here we'll break down a few chemicals to avoid in conventional toothpastes and outline some of the surprising beneficial ingredients you'll find in more natural brands.
The Not-So-Great Stuff
Some common additives found in traditional toothpastes may not be so great for your health. Here a few to watch out for when scanning product labels.
This gnarly stuff is well documented as an antibacterial ingredient, which can be helpful to keep mouth bacteria under control. But, triclosan has been designated by the EPA as a pesticide and a carcinogen to humans ... so you probably don't want to rinse your mouth out with this stuff twice a day.
Sodium lauryl sulfate:
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SFS) is what makes toothpaste get foamy and bubbly. In other words, it's the one thing that makes you believe your toothpaste is doing its job. But other than making you look like you're foaming at the mouth, sodium lauryl sulfate can irritate mucus membranes, leave skin rashes, and even cause labored breathing. Plus, it hangs around in the body for up to six days, building up slowly over time and accumulating in the heart, lungs, and liver. Guess what? When combined with other chemicals, SLS is also a carcinogen.
Finally, propylene glycol, also known as the active ingredient in antifreeze (yes, seriously!). This chemical is rapidly absorbed through the skin, and can lead to kidney, liver, and brain abnormalities. Sounds fun, right?
The Good Guys
If you're worried that switching to a more natural toothpaste won't be effective against bacteria, cavities, and bad breath, we're happy to say that you're flat-out wrong! Here are some of the natural all-star ingredients that keep teeth healthy and strong—in other words, the stuff you really want in your toothpaste.
Often used as a sugar substitute, this sugar alcohol might be a little surprising to find as the main ingredient in many toothpastes! Interestingly enough, xylitol actually kills bacteria. Ingest too much and you could end up with some digestive distress, but as a toothpaste, it's a deliciously sweet bacteria killer.
Baking soda is also known for its whitening effect on teeth. Already touted by most dental hygiene brands as the "secret powerful whitening ingredient" that makes their formulas effective, this common household item has long been used straight on a toothbrush to clean teeth. It doesn't taste great and can be a little harsh on enamel if used every morning, but combined with other natural ingredients like sweet xylitol and cooling peppermint oil, it can be pretty refreshing and cleansing.
You might know this ingredient thanks to it's presence in clean beauty products. Like the chemical-free lotions you might use on skin, vegetable glycerin gives toothpaste its squeezable consistency without harsh, hormone-disrupting chemicals.
There are tons of different natural toothpastes available on the market these days, and typically they're even less expensive than their chemical-laden counterparts. If you've been questioning natural toothpaste, now you know it's time to take the plunge and brush your way to a healthier body!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho