Just the very mention of a trip to the dentist can send even the bravest of us into a cold sweat, but looking after your mouth and teeth is a really important part of keeping yourself feeling at your best. It has been suggested that there are links between health in the mouth and health in the body, as well as the reverse – ill health. For example, one researcher found that gum disease raised the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients by around 2%. It is thus in everyone’s best interests to look after their teeth.
But what is the best way of doing so? For thousands of years, people in some Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries have used the miswak, a stick from a certain type of tree (Salvadora persica), to clean their teeth and gums effectively. Recent research from the King Saud University has shown that this contains many natural substances which help to protect the gums from disease, kill micro-organisms in the mouth and increase salivation dental marketing guy.
The miswak demonstrates how natural materials can offer us an excellent alternative to the synthetic chemical ingredients which can be found in many personal care products, from shampoos to sanitizers, and from toners to toothpastes. There are thousands of these synthetic products on the market, but it is unlikely that you will have seen a truly natural toothpaste on the shelves of your local supermarket. So what do the big brand dental care companies put in their toothpastes?
Fluoride first began to be used in toothpastes in 1914, long before the water supplies in the UK became fluoridated. In both cases it was introduced to combat dental decay, a problem which was very widespread amongst the population. Around 10% of the UK now receives fluoridated water (mostly around the West Midlands), which is around 6 million people.
However, the presence of fluoride, both in drinking water and toothpastes, has become a significant issue, and not just in the UK. Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan and Cuba are amongst the countries which have withdrawn the fluoridation of their water. Interestingly, some of these have recorded even lower dental decay rates since the fluoride was removed from the water system, which has led some people to question the efficacy of fluoride.
However, it is not just its efficacy in preventing tooth decay which has put fluoride in the spotlight. If people are exposed to too much, it can lead to permanently brown-stained teeth; a condition known as fluorosis. Children are particularly vulnerable to these marks, which is why it is recommended that they only use a very small amount of toothpaste when brushing their teeth.
Triclosan is another substance used in many non-natural toothpastes, although not nearly as well known as fluoride. It is a versatile ingredient, also present in liquid soaps, deodorants, shaving creams and cleaning products, as well as a whole range of other household items. It is an effective antibacterial and antifungal agent which is even recommended for decolonising patients with MRSA.
Whilst these benefits clearly make it a useful ingredient in toothpastes and other personal care products, Triclosan does also appear to have some downsides. Concerns have been raised over the reaction which occurs when it comes into contact with the chlorine which is found in tap water. This reaction can lead to the production of chloroform gas, which is classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as having possible cancer-causing properties.
However, chloroform isn’t the only chemical created in this reaction. Other compounds are also produced, which then convert into dioxins when they come into contact with sunlight. Dioxins are classified, again by the US Environmental Protection Agency, as being a serious threat to public health, and have been linked with cancer and chloracne, a particularly treatment-resistant skin condition.
Unfortunately, Triclosan is also bad for the environment as it does not easily break down and once it is absorbed into the fat cells of a creature, it is unlikely ever to leave its system. It then accumulates up the food chain to create much higher concentrations in those at the top. Research has also revealed that Triclosan may well be an endocrine disruptor in a breed of bullfrog, leading to a range of negative health effects.
So why choose a natural toothpaste instead?
Natural toothpastes from companies like Green People are made with organic essential oils, vitamin C and Myrrh. These ingredients protect the mouth from bacterial growth naturally, without needing to bring in synthetic chemicals which the body does not know how to deal with. The fact that they are occur in nature also means that these toothpastes do not have the negative impact on the environment which can be the case with their synthetic rivals.
Many natural toothpastes also draw on the properties of Aloe vera, which has a remarkably soothing effect on sensitive gums, helping to reduce swelling and discomfort. It is also an effective antiseptic and aids in keeping gums clean, especially in areas which are hard to reach with the toothbrush.