Brightening Smiles the Natural Way

A look into the benefits of natural toothpaste and dental care products.

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Toothpaste is an essential part of morning and evening oral hygiene routines. It’s something that consumers might not think twice about, but recently, more and more toothpaste options have been popping up on shelves. These options aren’t necessarily about the choice between flavors and brands, but extra protection against tooth decay and gum disease (1).

Typically, conventional toothpastes contain ingredients such as fluoride, detergents and abrasives (1). These ingredients are used to remove surface stains and debris, strengthen tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity, according to the American Dental Association. While there are benefits to both conventional and natural toothpastes, since some share similar ingredients, the following ingredients found in natural toothpastes could be just as beneficial for teeth and overall oral hygiene routine as conventional approaches.

Active Ingredients in Natural Toothpaste
Baking Soda. Many consumers are concerned about the whiteness of their smile, and baking soda is one of the known ingredients to help make that happen. Commonly found in a pantry and used for multiple purposes around the house, baking soda can be found in teeth-whitening products as well as toothpastes (2). Baking soda is considered a “mild abrasive,” meaning it has the ability to remove surface stains (2). Research has shown that toothpaste with baking soda can be more effective than toothpastes without it. For example, the Journal of Clinical Dentistry conducted five randomized, controlled, blinded and crossover studies comparing plaque scores between subjects using toothpastes with and without baking soda (3). Those using baking soda experienced significantly greater whole mouth plaque scores (3).

Cranberry. The National Institutes of Health states that “tooth decay is one of the most common conditions among Americans” (4). Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered that the same traits that make cranberry juice effective against bladder infections also make it an effective agent for oral hygiene. According to their findings, cranberry juice acts like Teflon on the surface of teeth, preventing the formation of glucan, a building block of plaque (5). However, this does not mean consumers should be encouraged to gargle cranberry juice as most varieties contain added sugars and natural acids that contribute to cavities and tooth decay. But if the active compounds were isolated and added to toothpastes and mouthwashes, compelling evidence suggests that it would contribute to better oral hygiene (5).

Green Tea. Green tea has been used traditionally for over 4,000 years for medicinal purposes in both Chinese and Japanese cultures (5). Recent studies over the years have found potential links of green tea consumption with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease as well as improved weight loss, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (6). Now, there’s hopeful research that suggests green tea antioxidants can help fight against gum disease and gum inflammation (6). The study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, examined the periodontal health of 940 men aged 49–59 years and found that participants who regularly consumed green tea had superior periodontal health (6). In fact, researchers observed that all three indicators of periodontal disease they tested decreased per each cup of tea that was consumed (6).

Neem. Long ago, rural populations in India didn’t have access to modern oral hygiene facilities and products. To maintain proper dental health, they chewed on neem twigs to prevent tooth loss and cavities (7). There isn’t much empirical evidence on neem’s natural oral hygiene benefits, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the ingredient’s bark is most effective in freshening breath, reducing plaque and other oral bacteria, and restoring gum health (7). Natural toothpastes might include ingredients such as neem extract or leaf powder (7). However, be aware that toothpaste products should not include neem oil, for it is commonly used externally to ward off insects and other pests (7).

Xylitol. Used as a sugar substitute in sweets, xylitol “is already known to cause less damage to teeth than sugar,” states the American Dental Association (8). Several studies have explored the benefits of xylitol and how the natural substance is tied to blocking bacteria and preventing tooth decay (8). University of Manchester researchers, for example, found that fluoride toothpaste with xylitol “reduced tooth decay in permanent teeth of children by 13 percent over a 3-year period when compared to fluoride-only toothpaste” (8). Additional xylitol research is still necessary, but research to date has been promising and xylitol products have been growing in popularity.

What else to support oral hygiene?
In addition to natural toothpaste ingredients, consumers can look into probiotics, specifically Streptococcus salivarius (as BLIS K12 for example), which has been shown to support oral hygiene (9). The probiotic also supports healthy immune as well as nose and throat health (9). Consumers can find the probiotic in products on shelves in the form of tablets, chewing gum, powders and lozenges (9). Looking for other natural dental products to stock up on? Explore benefits of additional oral hygiene items such as herbal mouthwashes and mouth sprays, vegan-waxed floss and vitamin C. WF

References

  1. Colgate, “What Is In Toothpaste? Five Ingredients and What They Do,” http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/basics/selecting-dental-products/article/what-is-in-toothpaste-five-ingredients-and-what-they-do-0814, accessed July 14, 2016.
  2. Colgate, “Does Baking Soda Whiten Teeth?,” http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/cosmetic-dentistry/teeth-whitening/article/does-baking-soda-whiten-teeth-0113, accessed July 14, 2016.
  3. S. Putt, et al. “Enhancement of plaque removal efficacy by tooth brushing with baking soda dentifrices: results of five clinical studies.” Journal of Clinical Dentistry. 19(4). 111-119. 2008.
  4. News Medical, “ Cranberry flavoured toothpaste may help stop decay,” http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/11/28/14714.aspx, accessed July 14, 2016.
  5. “Give Thanks for the Cranberry, Say Dental Researchers.” https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/947/give-thanks-for-the-cranberry-say-dental-researchers.aspx
  6. American Academy of Periodontology, “Go Green for Healthy Teeth and Gums,” https://www.perio.org/consumer/green-tea, accessed July 14, 2016.
  7. Neem Toothpaste, “What Neem Can Do for Your Teeth and Gums,” http://www.discoverneem.com/neem-toothpaste.html, accessed July 14, 2016.
  8. American Dental Association, “New research shows clinical evidence unclear on effects of xylitol products preventing dental caries,” http://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2015-archive/march/new-research-shows-clinical-evidence-unclear-on-effects-of-xylitol-products-preventing-dental-carie?nav=news, accessed July 14, 2016.
  9. BLIS K12, “What is BLIS K12?,” http://www.blisk12.com/what-is-blis-k12/, accessed July 14, 2016.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2016