Brushing your teeth, is very important for the oral hygiene and serves several important functions.
First, brushing your teeth helps remove food debris and plaque. Dental plaque is a buildup of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. Some of these bacteria, mainly Streptococcus mutans and other types of lactobacilli, metabolize sugars and produce acids that form cavities.
In addition to removing plaque from the teeth, brushing also helps massage the gums, stimulating better circulation for healthier gums. Even those who do not have teeth should brush their gums regularly to improve circulation and ensure healthier gum tissues.
What is toothpaste for?
Toothpaste is usually composed of abrasives, active ingredients and ingredients to give it a pleasant taste. Its purpose is to help remove plaque and freshen the mouth, while providing active ingredients to protect against cavities.
Does toothpaste work to remove plaque?
While many people think that toothpaste is the most important thing in their dental hygiene routine, thinking that there is something magical about toothpaste that helps remove plaque and prevent cavities, unfortunately it’s not that easy. In fact, if you use toothpaste primarily to remove plaque, you may be surprised to discover that a review study conducted last year concluded that using a toothpaste when brushing did not remove any more plaque than brushing your teeth without toothpaste.
So, the act of brushing your teeth, even without any toothpaste, already serves to remove much of the plaque and is key to achieving optimal dental health.
But does toothpaste serve any other purpose?
Most toothpastes have additives designed to prevent cavities in other ways. Fluoride is the most popular active ingredient added to toothpaste.
How does fluoride prevent cavities?
Fluoride is added to toothpaste to help keeping teeth demineralized by the plaque. Under the right conditions, the fluoride ion can replace some of the missing crystalline structure of the enamel.
But while adding fluoride to toothpaste to prevent cavities, it also brings some potential toxicity issues. Fluoride is a neurotoxin. In high doses, fluoride can affect bone formation, cause digestive problems, kidney problems or suppress the thyroid. At lower doses it can cause cosmetic problems such as fluorosis of the teeth, something I know from experience as I have mild dental fluorosis myself.
To avoid reaching what they believe to be toxic amounts of fluoride in toothpaste, in case a small child swallows a whole tube, the fluoride levels in toothpaste actually become low enough for topical application.
When you think about it, the method of trying to incorporate fluoride into the tooth structure through toothpaste doesn’t sound that effective. Typically people brush their teeth for only a minute or two, at best. We try to remove the plaque layer at the same time we try to topically administer a dose of fluoride to the teeth. To complicate the method further, in order for the fluoride ion to be incorporated into the enamel structure, an ideal environment with a high pH is needed.
Since the method is not ideal for delivering a dose of fluoride effectively to the teeth, they say not to rinse after brushing the teeth. (Of course, that also means that the fluoride stays in your mouth longer and even though they tell you not to swallow the toothpaste, you unintentionally swallow small amounts during that time). They sell toothpastes with a higher concentration of fluoride, available by prescription, but you have to use them with great caution.
I’m not going to tell you that you should use fluoride toothpaste, nor that you should avoid it. Each person has to weigh the potential benefits and risks of using a fluoride toothpaste. While fluoride can help in the fight against cavities, you have to think that relying on fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities is not the best way to prevent cavities.
The main thing is to eat a healthy diet and eliminate the foods that cause cavities. It is a much healthier way to avoid cavities and much more effective. (If there is enough interest, I can give my tips for avoiding cavities another day).
In addition, there are other less toxic substances that can help with remineralization….
See how to make these homemade toothpastes:
Other problematic ingredients in commercial dentifrices. sodium lauryl sulfate The main ingredient I wanted to avoid myself, which is found in most commercial toothpastes, is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Both my husband and I used to get canker sores quite frequently, and SLS in toothpaste has been linked to increased recurrence of canker sores.
SLS is a surfactant that creates a foam, giving a pleasant sensation when brushing your teeth, but in return it can irritate the mucosa of the mouth. If you really wanted a foaming toothpaste (I don’t really need one), you can follow Dr. Bronner’s advice and use liquid Castile soap to brush your teeth. (I even have recipes for making liquid Castile soap on the blog).
Stopping using a toothpaste with SLS has been enough to prevent canker sores for years. I don’t remember the last time having to suffer through it.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that stays in the mouth for hours after brushing teeth. It is added to prevent the formation of bacterial plaque, thus preventing cavities, gingivitis and periodontitis. It has been removed from most brands due to potential toxicity concerns, but Colgate still uses it in its Colgate Total® toothpaste. While their studies conclude that the benefits outweigh the risks, there really isn’t much partial data (They have paid for those studies).
Triclosan has been banned in hand soaps because it was shown that antibacterial soaps were no more effective than regular soaps, and that the use of antibacterial agents such as Triclosan could lead to the creation of resistant bacteria. However, it was allowed to remain in toothpaste because Colgate convinced the government of its major benefit in that product. I am not convinced by the use of triclosan in toothpaste for several reasons Triclosan is a hormone disruptor.
Just as taking antibiotics every day is not the best way to be healthy, I doubt that continuous use of antibiotics in the mouth is the best way to maintain a healthy mouth. Our digestive system has a delicate balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria, and constantly taking antibiotics can upset that balance. I imagine our mouth, the beginning of the digestive system, works the same way.
Without knowing more, I don’t like the idea of taking the risk of unbalancing the bacteria in the mouth, especially not as a preventative measure.
In the case of someone with rampant caries or severe gingivitis and/or periodontitis, the use of a topical antibacterial agent may be useful to control the disease for a short time, just as one would use an antibiotic for a short period to treat another disease. However, in this hypothetical situation, it would be much more effective and healthier to find and eliminate the cause of those cavities. (There is always going to be a cause. Perhaps that person sucked on cough drops to treat a sore throat, not realizing that habit caused multiple cavities. Instead of using an antibacterial agent against cavities, it would be more helpful to identify the problem and stop using those candies or limit their use).
Formulating a homemade toothpaste
Today, I’m going to share several different methods of making a homemade toothpaste. I’ll explain why to use the ingredients I’ve chosen so you can decide how to make a toothpaste to your liking.
Option 1: Make an oil-based toothpaste.
In the interest of avoiding the need for preservatives, many, certainly most, homemade toothpaste recipes use an oil base. (When you use water as one of the ingredients, microbes can already grow in the mixture if you don’t use some sort of preservative).
What ingredients can be used in an oil-based toothpaste?
Coconut oil is a commonly chosen oil for homemade toothpastes because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Some recipes take advantage of the fact that it is solid at cooler temperatures to make a toothpaste with more consistency. The downside to this is that the consistency of the recipe changes from season to season, giving you a more runny toothpaste in the summer and possibly an almost solid, hard to use toothpaste in the winter.
I’m going to share an oil-based toothpaste recipe with coconut oil, but you can make it with a fractionated coconut oil or another oil in the winter to avoid that problem.
(I usually use a silicone travel tube to dispense the homemade toothpaste, but in winter, if it solidifies too much, it can make it very difficult to use).
Homemade oil-based toothpaste.
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp. bentonite clay
- 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder WITHOUT SUGAR (or cocoa nibs)
- 1 Tbsp. xylitol
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- optional peppermint essential oil for taste
Mix all the dry ingredients together. If you use cocoa nibs instead of cocoa powder, or if you find that the ingredients are too abrasive because you have very sensitive teeth or gums, you can grind them in a coffee grinder. (I personally use cocoa powder, and don’t grind the ingredients, but it’s an option).
Add the coconut oil, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. If you’re going to use a silicone travel tube to dispense it (like me), you may want to add a little more to make it flow better. In winter, you can use fractionated coconut oil or other liquid oil to keep the toothpaste from solidifying.
Fill the silicone tube or other storage container with the homemade toothpaste – it’s ready to use!
Option 2: Water-based toothpaste
Most commercial toothpastes are water-based. However, once you add water to a recipe, you also introduce a source of bacterial and fungal growth. That’s why many prefer to use an oil-based toothpaste or powdered toothpaste.
That said, the ingredients we are going to use create an inhospitable environment for microbial growth. These ingredients help us to extend the life of our toothpaste for a longer period of time.
Just as salt is used to preserve foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, salt-cured olives and anchovies, adding salt to toothpaste helps inhibit the formation of bad bacteria. Besides, salt has other beneficial properties.
If you use a mineral-rich salt, such as Himalayan salt, you also add beneficial minerals to the recipe. Salt also stimulates the formation of saliva, which, in itself, helps against tooth decay. Saliva buffers the pH of the mouth, thwarting the appearance of cavities. (That’s why having a dry mouth can be a major factor in the formation of cavities).
Baking soda is used in many toothpastes. It is another kind of salt that serves to raise the pH of toothpaste. The alkalinity of baking soda can neutralize acids in the mouth, which helps prevent cavities (remember that it is the acids released by bacteria in plaque that primarily cause cavities).
) The high pH of baking soda (around pH = 9) also serves as a preservative to some extent. Most bacteria prefer a near neutral pH (pH = 7). Yes there are some microbes, called alkalophiles, that can survive in alkaline environments of 8.5-11, but in combination with salt, we are creating an environment that is not very hospitable to bacteria. Still, we should be cautious not to make large quantities of water-based toothpaste.
Bentonite clay is a very useful ingredient to use in a homemade toothpaste because it gives it a better consistency. Here in Spain, bentonite clay is not found that often, and homemade toothpastes usually use white clays.
While any edible (or at least non-toxic) clay can be used, I tend to prefer bentonite clay for several reasons. Bentonite clay has a high pH (pH = 8-9.7), which, again, helps neutralize the acids that cause cavities. It also helps us in another way: bentonite is said to bind to toxins and impurities to help remove them. Whether true and useful or not in the context of a homemade toothpaste (I can’t find any studies to support or reject that idea), it is a clay that is food grade, and extremely useful to have at home. I use it often in my activated charcoal face mask, and it goes wonderfully for my oily, acne-prone skin.
Xylitol is an interesting sweetener because not only does it not cause cavities, but it can help fight cavities. When I was in dental school, we sometimes prescribed xylitol gum to patients who were prone to cavities. These gums worked in several ways. The act of chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which helps keep saliva in contact with the teeth. As I have already told you, saliva buffers the pH of the mouth and thus protects against tooth-damaging acids. If you chew gum with sugar, you cause more harm than good because you allow the sugar to be in contact with your teeth for a long time at a time. Xylitol, on the other hand, seems to discourage the formation of cavities because it raises the pH of saliva in the mouth. While some modern studies question whether it is very helpful, it is still a tooth-safe sweetener and is ideal for homemade toothpastes.
IMPORTANT: Xylitol can be toxic to dogs and cats – don’t use a paste made with xylitol to brush your pet’s teeth!
Cocoa is a fun ingredient to add to homemade toothpaste and can make it much more appealing to children. Theobromine, one of the components of cocoa, has shown promise in remineralizing teeth. In fact, it has been said that theobromine may be a safer and better alternative to fluoride in toothpaste.
I came across the beneficial effects on teeth by accident when I learned about a chocolate toothpaste that many people liked. I thought about buying it and trying it, but decided against it for several reasons. Besides being quite expensive, the base of that toothpaste is glycerin. There is a popular idea that glycerin can prevent remineralization of teeth. I haven’t found any studies to support that popular idea, but I try to avoid it just in case.
Does cocoa stain your teeth?
I have been using different homemade toothpastes with cocoa for almost 2 years with no signs of staining my teeth. I have also done some research on whether or not it “should” stain my teeth. Some hypothesize that because theobromine helps strengthen teeth, that in the end the cocoa might even help prevent staining. In the end, I have to admit I’m not sure, but I can only say that I don’t see my teeth stained after years of using it. Mind you, it does leave dark marks in the sink if you don’t rinse it well after spitting.
You can use ground cocoa nibs or cocoa powder, but I stick with cocoa powder as the little bits of the nibs stay between the teeth even if you grind them very fine. While it is a great incentive to floss, it is unpleasant.
Homemade water-based toothpaste
- 1 tsp. baking soda.
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. bentonite clay
- 2 tsp. distilled water
- 1 tsp. xylitol
- 2 tsp. optional cocoa powder
- mint essential oil, a few drops, optional, for flavor.
Mix all the dry ingredients together. If you prefer to use cocoa nibs or find that the ingredients are too abrasive for your sensitive teeth, you can grind the ingredients in a coffee grinder before adding them to the water.
Add the distilled water to the desired consistency. Mix everything well.
You can add a few drops of an essential oil such as peppermint or clove oil for flavor and freshness.
Fill a silicone travel tube or other container with the homemade toothpaste and it’s ready to use!
How to use homemade toothpaste?
For me, your technique for brushing your teeth is more important than the toothpaste you use (and whether you use toothpaste or not).
In our house, we all use electric toothbrushes because the rotating action of the toothbrush is a great help in doing a proper technique without a lot of effort. This is especially important for young children or people with poor dexterity.
Brush your teeth several times a day, but I think the most important thing is to do at least one thorough brushing session each day, preferably just before bedtime. This is not to say that you should only brush your teeth once a day. It would be great (and preferable) to do a quick brushing after meals, so you remove food debris and can raise the pH after you’ve eaten acidic foods.
But don’t let the fact that you brushed your teeth after meals stop you from doing a thorough brushing session at night before bed. Our favorite instructor always promoted that concept, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I have a hard time falling asleep without having done that all-important thorough brushing session at night.
To perform a thorough brushing session, you must be sure to brush all surfaces of each tooth. You should use small circular motions following the contour of the gums or guide the electric toothbrush to clean all tooth surfaces and gently massage the gum line.
Use a toothbrush with soft bristles. You should brush for at least 2 minutes, which is usually the programmed “alarm” time of many electric toothbrushes.
After that full brushing session, it is the ideal time to floss between all the teeth and behind the last teeth in your mouth. You should gently run the floss along the side of each tooth, gently pushing down past the gum line, and lifting up any remaining trapped food and/or plaque buildup as you return the floss up.
If you want to make a final rinse, I will soon share a quick and easy recipe for making a homemade alcohol-free mouthwash.