6 Toothpaste Ingredients You Need to Avoid

You're brushing your teeth to take care of your health, so don't use counterproductive ingredients.

August 14, 2014
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"Brush three times a day!" You probably grew up hearing that conventional oral-hygiene wisdom, but unfortunately, doing so today could pose an unnecessary threat to your health, thanks to certain bad-actor ingredients cropping up in popular toothpaste brands. The kicker? Some of the worst ingredients don't even help keep your teeth cleaner. "Does the risk outweigh the benefits?" asks Linda A. Straub-Bruce, BS Ed, RDH, author of Dental Herbalism. "It's what I always ask my patients to consider."

She recommends avoiding these six ingredients that just aren't worth the risk.

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#1. Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS)
SLS seems to fuel canker sores. Researchers have linked SLS to higher numbers of canker sore outbreaks. As if that's not enough, SLS also seems to cause more frequent outbreaks that last longer, too, Straub-Bruce says. She also points out that there is a definite correlation with cold sensitivity. No one likes canker sores or sensitive teeth, so manufacturers must have a really good reason to justify its inclusion, right?

Nope.

"All it does is foam," explains Straub-Bruce. "There is no other viable purpose other than the experience. This doesn't translate into better health or lower microbial load, but people associate foaming with clean." In fact, she suggests that you get more cleaning power from the scraping action of brushing or flossing (or even just eating a carrot) than you do from SLS.

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#2. Triclosan 
"About 15 years ago, triclosan came to oral care because it fights the bacteria in plaque for up to 12 hours," says Straub-Bruce. Unfortunately, research is now showing that, much like BPA, triclosan is a hormone disruptor.

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"And now that it's been out for a long time and it's been going down the drain, we're starting to see the environmental impacts," says Straub-Bruce. She points out that not only is it a hormone disruptor for people, but it's also a food-chain disruptor because it affects algae. 

#3. Blue #1 and #2
The "benefit" of these dyes is pretty obvious: They color the toothpaste. That's it. Unfortunately, the fun color is offset by some pretty serious health concerns. "When swallowed, it's a respiratory irritant, digestive tract irritant, and there have been correlational studies between blue #1 and behavioral problems in children," says Straub-Bruce. 

#4. Flavoring
Sure, we love the minty-fresh taste, but what do the toothpaste companies add to make their pastes palatable. "No matter what it says on the front, you have to read the back," says Straub-Bruce. It's important to watch out for flavoring agents like aspartame.  If you're making the jump to natural herbal rinses and need help getting used to the new taste, she recommends looking for natural sweeteners like xylitol or stevia.

#5. Hydrated Silica 
This chemical is used for stain removal, but Straub-Bruce explains that it doesn't break down over time. "This means that it can damage your enamel," she says. She recommends using baking soda instead. You'll get sparkling teeth—without destroying them. 

#6. Alcohol
Straub-Bruce points out that alcohol is a false friend when it comes to mouth rinses: "Alcohol is an antimicrobial, but it's also a drying agent," she says. "So while it freshens your breath initially, it flips back twofold later because the bacteria thrive in a dry mouth." 

Instead, Straub-Bruce suggests making a tea of herbs (and letting it cool) as a rinse. To freshen your breath, try brewing a 2:1:1:0.5 ratio of cardamom, cumin, fennel, and orange peel in water. After it's cooled, rinse as you would with your regular mouthwash. 

Want to control what's going into your toothpaste? Try making it yourself.