No, it’s not a self-imposed punishment for being a potty-mouth. It’s because we’ve decided one way to improve our dental - and overall – health is to STOP using toothpaste.
We need to be concerned with the safety of our toothpaste ingredients because they enter our systems through our incredibly absorbent gums and other mouth tissue. If you doubt this, try rubbing some vodka on your gums, or tucking some tobacco in your cheek… See?
The Toxins in Your Toothpaste
You probably would say that fluoride is necessary to have strong healthy teeth. After all, this is what your dentist tells you, and certainly what the toothpaste commercials and even parts of our own government tell us. In fact, most localities even add it to the water supply.
But they don’t tell you that fluoride is a poison.
As an accumulative toxin, it leads to significant health problems over time. Studies have shown that fluoride toxicity can lead to muscle disorders, bone fractures, dementia, brain damage, lowered IQ, arthritis, increased lead absorption, hyperactivity and/or lethargy, bone cancer, lowered thyroid function, immune suppression, increased tumor and cancer rates, increased infertility AND MORE. (And, in animal studies, many of these were found even with very low levels of fluoride consumption.) Fluoride is known to interfere with basic functions of nerve cells in your brain and damage your pineal gland.
The Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products, 5th Edition (1984) gives lead (we know lead is no good for us, right?) a toxicity rating of 3 to 4 (3 = moderately toxic, 4 = very toxic), and so the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for lead in drinking water is set 0.015 mg/L (with a goal of 0.0 mg/L). The toxicity rating for fluoride is 4, yet the MCL for fluoride is currently set at 4 mg/L – over 250 times the permissible level for lead.
How could this be?! Well, in 1998, EPA scientists who worked on the setting of the MCL declared that this 4 mg/L level was set fraudulently by outside forces and that the decision omitted 90% of the data showing mutagenic properties of fluoride. (I know, it sounds crazy. See some of the action documents here, here and here.)
Fluorides are listed by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as among the top 20 of 275 substances that pose the most significant threat to human health. On Australia’s National Pollutant Inventory, fluoride compounds rank 27th out of 208 toxic substances.
If you take a look at your toothpaste and other oral care products, you will see an FDA warning against ingesting them because of the fluoride. Drugs (such as Prozac, some antibiotics and some anti-microbial medications) are often formulated with an attached fluoride to allow them to penetrate into sensitive tissues that are otherwise impenetrable. Because of this, these drugs, called fluoroquinolones, require an FDA warning, and some have even been withdrawn from the market due to toxicity. Fluoride gives them the unique ability to penetrate the central nervous system, including the brain.
Because of the known toxicity of fluoride, the fluoridation of water is a very controversial issues. (We’ll be discussing water and water filtration soon.) Right now, there are huge movements active in cities such as New York, Austin and San Diego, and all across Canada, to end the practice. In fact, back in January the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services announced plans to reduce the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water from 0.7-1.2 mg/L to 0.7 mg/L.
While this can mean a significant reduction in this neurotoxin for heavily fluoridated communities, it is still too high, especially for the most vulnerable. For example, if a mother uses tap water that contains 0.7 mg/L to reconstitute powdered baby formula, her child will receive approximately 175 times more fluoride than if he breastfed from a fluoridated water-drinking mother. As such, formula-fed infants (particularly those on the WIC program which only provides for powdered formula) are still at grave risk, even at the reduced level.
Even the EPA is initiating a review of the maximum fluoride allowed. It has also decided to phase out the use of sulfuryl fluoride, a food fumigant (although this decision is being fought by Dow AgroSciences, who manufactures the toxin).
All fluoride compounds have been shown to exert anti-thyroid effects, which often exacerbates other fluoride effects. In addition, consuming fluorine-based medications greatly adds to fluoride’s anti-thyroid effects.
Household exposures to fluorides can occur not just with dental products but also with the use of Teflon pans, exposure to Scotch-gard (3M phased-out the use of PFOS because of this), insecticide sprays and even residual airborne fluorides from fluoridated drinking water. Many foods (such as grapes and some teas) contain high levels of fluoride compounds due to pesticide applications. Soy infant formula is high in fluoride (and aluminum, by the way).
So your total fluoride intake may be much greater than you think.
(While we’ll continue to focus on fluoride here for a bit, other toxins to look out for in your toothpaste are: Fragrance, Retinol, Propylparaben, Aluminum Hydroxide, Hydrogen Peroxide, FD&C Blue 1 Aluminum Lake (or other coloring agents), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Triclosan, and Cocamidopropyl Betaine.)
The new reduced recommendations are due to the fact that fluorosis – a clear sign of fluoride overexposure – is skyrocketing. (My teenage son has signs of fluorosis himself, including mottled teeth.) According to recent estimates, 41 percent of adolescents aged 12-15 have dental fluorosis, while up to 80 percent of US children (all ages) suffer from some degree of dental fluorosis. Moderate-to-severe fluorosis was found in 14 percent of the children.
The requirement for an MCL to be set for fluoride at all is specifically aimed at avoiding a condition known as Crippling Skeletal Fluorosis (CSF). The disease is thought to progress through three stages. The MCL of 4 mg/L – which assumes that 2 mg/L is retained in the body – is aimed only at preventing the most advanced stage. Yet a daily dose of 2-8 mg is known to cause the third crippling stage of CSF.
I’m just touching on high-level stuff here. If you’d like to research further, here are good places to start: Fluoride: Worse Than We Thought, many articles by Dr. Mercola, the books The Fluoride Deception, The Case Against Fluoride (and similar books), and the website NoFluoride.com.
Just What IS Fluoride?
“Fluoride is any combination of elements containing the fluoride ion. In its elemental form, fluorine is a pale yellow, highly toxic and corrosive gas. In nature, fluorine is found combined with minerals as fluorides. It is the most chemically active nonmetallic element of all the elements and also has the most reactive electro-negative ion. Because of this extreme reactivity, fluorine is never found in nature as an uncombined element.” (Quote source.)
Prior to WWII, there was no commercial production of fluorine in the U.S. Because fluorine is required to process uranium ores (needed for the atomic bomb), its manufacture began then.
Following the war, fluoridation of water supplies began. There are two basic types of fluoride compounds used in water fluoridation: sodium silicofluoride and hydrofluorosilicic acid (with the latter being the most common additive). These are not pharmaceutical grade, and are in fact chemical byproducts of aluminum, steel, phosphate fertilizer and nuclear weapons manufacturing. (So, you can connect the dots between our government adding them to water supplies while conveniently getting rid of its own fluoride stockpiles.)
The fluoride compound in “naturally” fluoridated waters is calcium fluoride. Unlike sodium fluoride (discussed below), calcium fluoride does not dissolve easily in water. Studies show that less than two percent of calcium fluoride is absorbed, and this is excreted quantitatively in urine. But even this is not safe. Animals given calcium fluoride developed mottled teeth, making it clear that such compounds could produce changes on the teeth merely by passing through the body (as no calcium fluoride was retained).
Sodium fluoride (NaF), most commonly used in dental and other consumer products, is much more toxic than calcium fluoride, and is retained in great amounts in the body.
Does Fluoride Improve Dental Health?
There has never been evidence that systemic use (such as fluoride in drinking water) has any benefit in reduction of dental caries (decay). It is important to note that fluoride is NOT a required nutrient. My favorite analogy: Not getting fluoride (either applied topically or ingested) does not cause dental disease any more than not getting antidepressants causes depression.
While evidence is mixed on the efficacy of topical fluoride application, the benefits never outweigh the toxicity risks. Instead, it’s best to use proper non-toxic dental practices, which consider the body’s natural protection against tooth decay. Which brings me to…
Glycerin & Saliva
Glycerin is commonly one of the main ingredients in toothpaste and other dental care products. Glycerin provides the texture of toothpaste, and leaves a smooth-feeling film on your teeth. But unfortunately, this adhesive film prevents your saliva from naturally remineralizing your teeth, as it is designed to do.
Did you know that our four different types of salivary glands typically secrete between a half and one-and-a-half liters of saliva per day?! Here’s why:
Bacteria exist in your mouth and are necessary for the digestion process. But bacteria, as living organisms, produce waste products. Some of these are acidic (particularly those given off by sugar-eating bacteria). This acid breaks down the mineral structure of the tooth enamel, called demineralization. Enter our hero: Saliva. Our lowly “spit” flushes some of acid and excess sugars from the surface of the teeth, buffers the pH, most importantly, deposits ions of lost minerals (especially calcium and phosphorous) in microscopic gaps in the enamel (remineralization). If demineralization happens at a greater rate than remineralization, the enamel can be dissolved enough to allow bacteria to invade the tooth structure – and you need a filling. (Saliva also benefits your gums, is mildly antiseptic, and reduces the acidity that plaque requires to thrive. Adequate saliva production depends on good hydration, and good saliva composition requires good nutrition.)
With the industrialized diet of refined foods that we eat, saliva alone generally isn’t enough to safeguard our teeth and gums. Physical cleaning, such as brushing and flossing, is necessary, too.
Brush With What?
Although it is not at all necessary to use anything but a gentle toothbrush to brush your teeth, most of us prefer to use something. (Please make sure to always use soft bristles to protect your tooth enamel! Check out Radius Source and Preserve toothbrushes. Clever designs and recycled materials.)
Also keep in mind what we’ve discussed previously: Whatever you use, try using less. It will always be better for you, the environment and your checkbook.
Option 1: Natural Toothpastes
There are many natural toothpastes that are fluoride-free (although not all of them are!). However, it is nearly impossible to find one that is glycerin-free. To truly take good care of your choppers, it’s important to let your mouth ecosystem work the way it should and avoid glycerin. Because of this, the only natural toothpaste that I can recommend is the one by Miessence, available in mint, lemon and anise flavors. (Note: These formulas contain baking soda, which I think is too abrasive to tooth enamel for everyday use. However, if you really wanted to stick with a paste, I think this is the best option.) These toothpastes have a toxicity rating of 0 in the Environmental Working Group’s Database.
Unfortunately, EWG’s listing is not a good total resource here because while they rate the toxicity of products, they don’t deal with efficacy. In the case of toothpaste, they don’t take into account how glycerin or abrasives affect dental health.
Option 2: Tooth Powders
Many people opt to buy or make tooth powders. Sometimes these are as simple as using pure baking soda, or a mixture of baking soda and sea salt. One product that I tried was Good Gums. It has a pleasant, salty taste and is made with myrrh, peppermint, baking soda, French grey sea salt, vitamin C, bioflavonoid complex, cinnamon, tea tree leaf and cranberry. I enjoyed using it, but as I mentioned above, after a lot of research I’ve come to think that baking soda is too abrasive for all but occasional use, and so tooth powders were not a good option.
Option 3: Tooth Soaps
Eventually I tried Tooth Soap. Made of just organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, water and essential oils, it is safe, gentle and allows tooth remineralization. (We have used the liquid. The gels and new “whips” also contain Himalayan crystal salt.) These come in a large variety of flavors, including cinnamon, ginger, honey-blends, different mints and a variety of fruity flavors.
The liquid is very easy to use. You simply take the little dropper, squeeze a couple of drops onto your teeth and brush with a wet toothbrush. It doesn’t really foam, but your mouth does feel clean after using it, especially as time goes on. The small bottle, while it seems expensive, lasts a long, long time.
You might be thinking, ‘How can you use any kind of soap when you are trying to avoid glycerin?’ Well, that is an excellent question. The very process of making soap does produce glycerin. In the case of Tooth Soap, the amount of glycerin is very minute (unlike toothpastes in which it is a main ingredient), and not enough to coat the teeth. There is no added glycerin.
(You also might be thinking, ‘The ingredients in Tooth Soap are quite similar to those in Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.’ Another astute observation! Many people do use the Dr. Bronner’s as toothpaste, and in fact we tried it for a while. However, I was unable to get an answer from the company as to how much glycerin was produced in their soap-making process, and what percentage of the total makeup was glycerin. As such, I can’t recommend it as I feel that allowing the natural remineralization of teeth is essential to dental health.)
Does it Really Work?
Absolutely. From my experience, almost everything about my dental health has improved.
The first thing I noticed, quite soon after I stopped using conventional toothpastes, is that I never had morning breath. In fact, if I didn’t brush my teeth first thing in the morning, I would forget. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with avoiding the glycerin.
Secondly, my gum health has improved. Before Christmas, we began seeing a new dentist. This was right about the time that I stopped using conventional toothpaste. I was told that I needed an in-depth cleaning, and needed a very deep cleaning (read: very expensive cleaning) in one, maybe two quadrants. So, naturally, I put it off . Just last month when I finally went in for the cleaning, I didn’t need the deep cleaning anywhere, and in fact there was only one tiny area where my gums still looked inflamed at all.
Thirdly, my teeth look better. This is probably due, at least in part, to diet – specifically limiting and properly preparing grains – but I think part of it is remineralization. The formerly transparent tips of my front teeth now look more opaque, and the overall look of my teeth is better.
The only downside that I noticed is that for about the first three weeks after stopping conventional toothpaste, I had a sort of “sludge” on my tongue at times. Again, this is all my (slightly educated) guesswork, but I think it was probably some kind of detox (either from the toothpaste change or any of the many, many changes I made at that time). I used a tongue cleaner (a good investment if you suffer from bad breath, by the way) which took care of it quickly. It doesn’t ever happen now.
Tomorrow, look for a short post on choosing a healthy dental floss, a discount code on Tooth Soap, and another Product Junkie Giveaway!
We have just briefly mentioned how diet affects dental health, as we are focusing in this series on personal care products. However, as Weston A. Price’s work shows, diet is, in fact, the most important factor. Dr. Price was a dentist, and studying the causes of tooth decay was the impetus for his groundbreaking studies.
If you or someone in your family has significant dental issues, please consider reading Cure Tooth Decay by Rami Nagel. The information in this book could quite literally turn around your dental and physical health. Please especially consider reading it if you are due for a dangerous procedure such as a root canal.
Another good recommendation is to find a holistic dentist. These can be difficult to find (especially one who approaches dental health through nutrition) but here is a good place to begin.
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