- “Natural” and “herbal” toothpastes are now found not only in health food stores, but also chemists and supermarkets.
- Many of the so-called “natural” brands aren’t so different from conventional toothpaste, yet they’re often far more expensive.
- The most important ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride, which is critical to maintaining healthy teeth.
A trip down any supermarket aisle will reveal a mind-boggling array of toothpastes, with prices varying from $1.40 to $10. They sport shiny packaging and equally slick promises such as “extreme clean”, “breath-freshening strips” and “12 hours of protection”. Then there’s the growing market in alternative toothpastes, mainly catering to those hoping to avoid fluoride and other chemical additives conventional toothpastes generally contain.
However, many of the so-called “natural” or “herbal” products CHOICE found are made up of very similar ingredients to their mainstream counterparts, the main omission being fluoride. Yet you can easily pay up to four times the price per 100gm for these alternatives. The most expensive herbal toothpaste we found was a staggering $12.
Please note: this information was current as of August 2009 but is still a useful guide today.
While the absence of fluoride is the common link in all the natural toothpastes we found, most experts argue this is the one vital ingredient toothpaste should contain. Philippa Sawyer, a paediatric dentist and spokesperson for the Australian Dental Association, and Professor Mike Morgan, Chair of Population Oral Health at the Melbourne Dental School, Melbourne University, both advise against fluoride-free toothpastes. In fact, Morgan believes there are just two things to consider in your purchasing decision. “Look for toothpaste that has fluoride in it; after that the decision should really just be driven by price.”
While Sawyer believes people usually choose natural toothpaste because they want to avoid fluoride and the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulphate, we found many of the natural and herbal toothpastes on the market contain sodium lauryl sulphate or an alternative detergent. Sawyer says this can irritate the mouth and make it sore, but only in a tiny percentage of people.
For sensitive mouths
If you’re prone to skin sensitivity aggravated by sodium lauryl sulphate it’s possible to find fluoridated toothpastes without it. Of the 21 natural toothpastes we found on the market, five contain sodium lauryl sulphate, while four more contain sodium lauryl sarcosinate which can also be an irritant. Another two brands use lauryl glucoside or lauryl polyglucose, which are far milder. Many use abrasives such as silica and various gums to bind the product together, as is the case with mainstream products. Many of the natural pastes contain sorbitol, which is used primarily as a humectant to keep the paste from drying out but is also an artificial sweetener.
With such a wide range of toothpastes on the market it’s important to know what’s really necessary and what’s just marketing hype. The most important ingredient is fluoride, which is critical to maintaining healthy teeth. Most natural toothpastes are not going to provide the necessary fluoride and many will come with a hefty price tag to boot. If you use one of the natural toothpastes, we advise you read the packaging carefully and identify the various ingredients. It is also recommended you use a mouth rinse afterwards that contains fluoride.