But that’s changing in a big way, thanks to a growing contingent of upstart natural oral care companies, all of which are eschewing ingredients like fluoride, triclosan, and SLS in favor of activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and even probiotics. (Is there nothing those friendly bacteria can't do?)
Since the market for toxin-free tooth loot is still taking shape, I turned to a pro for some guidance into what's really worth buying—Karla Solis, DDS, of LA Holistic Dentistry. I wanted to know: What are the hero products of the natural dental world? Which ingredients should we unequivocally avoid? And should we really push flossing down our dental priority lists, as recent reports claim? (Because that seems kinda gross, no?)
Keep reading for a dentist's advice on finding the right all-natural oral care products for you.
Instead of traditional toothpaste, try one made with herbs and clay
Bye, Aquafresh—when it comes to toothpaste, Dr. Solis believes the number-one ingredient to avoid is fluoride. “It’s been classified as a neurotoxin that accumulates in our bodies and can manifest itself over time as dental fluorosis—or as far worse health problems,” she says.
If you're surprised to hear the ingredient touted on most toothpaste labels described in such scary terms, here's a bit of background: Fluoride has become controversial in some holistic health activist circles, particularly because it is added to the water supply in the US. And those concerns have begun to get mainstream attention: In 2014, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet included it in its list of neurotoxins (along with lead, arsenic, and more), and a 2012 Harvard University report found that kids in areas supplied by high-fluoride water have "significantly lower" IQs than those whose water has less fluoride. (The American Dental Association still maintains that fluoride is safe and prevents tooth decay.)
But since even fluoride-free toothpastes can harbor some dicey ingredients, Dr. Solis recommends going the all-natural route. Her go-tos include PerioPaste, a professional-grade cleanser filled with wild-crafted herbs (like calendula and green tea) and essential oils (peppermint and oregano, for starters); Deborah Organics’ Natural Clay Toothpaste, which draws out toxins with two types of clay; and Dr. Jaikaran’s Herbodent, an Ayurvedic formula from India that includes 21 different micronized herbs.
And for something that actually looks as natural as it sounds, there’s The Dirt’s Trace Mineral Tooth Brushing Powder, which is made of just seven ingredients—including extra-fine bentonite clay—and could totally pass as something you dug up from your garden.
Instead of mouthwash, try oil pulling
Alcohol, a key ingredient in most mouthwashes, is also at the top of Dr. Solis’ oral care blacklist. “Alcohol-based rinses are really harsh and dehydrating for teeth, and they can cause hypersensitivity in some patients,” she says.
Instead, she has all of her clients take up oil pulling, an ancient (and trendy) Ayurvedic practice wherein you swish a tablespoon of oil around in your mouth for 15 to 20 minutes. (It sounds like ages, but is actually the perfect amount of time to mix up a face mask—yay for multitasking!)
“As the oil hits your teeth and gums, microbes are picked up as though they are being drawn to a powerful magnet,” explains Dr. Solis. “Bacteria hiding under crevices in the gums and in pores and tubules within the teeth are sucked out of their hiding places and held firmly in the solution.” (She adds that you shouldn’t gargle, swallow, or spit in the sink since all that oil will eventually clog your plumbing.)
Dr. Solis carries Skinny & Co. Coconut Oil with Peppermint in her office, which she says is the only coconut oil that’s pH balanced specifically for the mouth. And for oil pulling on the go—seriously, you’ve seen weirder things happen on the subway—Minty Coco makes single-dose packets of 100 percent natural coconut and peppermint oil.
Instead of floss, try a Waterpik
I have to admit, I raised an eyebrow when I heard that experts are questioning the merits of flossing, so I asked Dr. Solis what she thinks. While she says it’s definitely beneficial when done properly—and in combination with brushing, oil pulling, and regular dental visits—she notes that not everyone gets it right.
“I do notice a lot of patients don’t know the proper way to floss...they tend to just insert the floss up and down instead of hugging the tooth with it,” she says. “For that reason, I tell most of my patients to invest in a Waterpik instead. A Waterpik is just a gadget that shoots water—you place it in between the teeth by the gum and it removes a lot more debris then the flossing would.”
Given that floss is another dental care product with some not-so-clean ingredients—including one that’s been linked to thyroid disease—this seems like a safer and more effective alternative.
Instead of peroxide whiteners, try activated charcoal
Activated charcoal doesn’t just detox your gut and skin—it also helps you score whiter teeth without harsh bleaching agents. “Activated charcoal works by trapping toxins and chemicals into its porous surface, thus preventing such chemicals from being absorbed into the bloodstream,” explains Dr. Solis. “It’s also shown to be attracted to compounds known as tannins, which are found in common stain-inducing items like wine or coffee.”
While she says you won’t see results as quickly as you will with a Whitestrip, Dr. Solis does recommend several charcoal-based products to her customers for whitening purposes, including PearlBar’s charcoal toothbrushes and floss picks, as well as Cococlear’s charcoal oil pulling solution. (Other options include charcoal toothbrush subscription boxes by Boka and Tulip and Curaprox's electric toothbrush and charcoal paste kit.)
She adds: “I think it’s fair to say that all charcoal-infused products are potentially effective over time, but I feel the toothpastes and oil-pulling products are the best routes for natural and effective whitening.”
Extra credit: Scrape your tongue and pop a prebiotic or probiotic
If tongue scraping isn’t already part of your oral care routine, Dr. Solis suggests you add it to the lineup, stat. (She uses this scraper.) “It’s helpful to scrape your tongue in the morning, after your body has rested and digested,” she says. “Bacteria sit at the base of your tongue and, if they’re not removed, they can cause bad odor and an imbalance of oral flora.”
And speaking of oral flora, there’s now a probiotic made specifically for your mouth by Replenish the Good, which contains strains of good bacteria that have been clinically proven to prevent bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. While Dr. Solis wasn’t previously aware of it and can’t comment on its effectiveness, she does carry a prebiotic toothpaste called Revitin in her office. (Prebiotics fuel the good bacteria that are already living in your system.) It’s filled with vitamins and nutrients that are said to give you stronger enamel, fresher breath, and heightened immunity and digestive function—who wouldn’t smile at that?
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