The antibacterial ingredient triclosan in some toothpaste claims to provide antibacterial protection for up to 12 hours after brushing. Concerns have been raised about its inclusion in toothpaste, however, and triclosan was recently reviewed by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessments Scheme (NICNAS). A spokesperson for NICNAS told CHOICE the levels of triclosan used in toothpastes in Australia are below those at which any detrimental health effects have been observed. None of the natural toothpastes we found contained triclosan.
Where mainstream toothpastes generally contain artificial flavours and colours, the natural products tend to use essential oils for flavour, such as:
Most of the natural brands don’t use colouring, except one that contains titanium dioxide, the whitening agent used in most conventional toothpastes, two that use chlorophyll and another CI42090, an artificial colouring agent used to make products a brilliant blue. The truly herbal brands, which don’t contain many chemicals and include a smorgasbord of herbs, offer very little in the way of abrasives or plaque-resisting elements.
The experts CHOICE spoke to say such toothpastes will probably provide very little benefit to the teeth. While some natural toothpaste brands allow consumers to avoid certain ingredients, artificial flavours and colours, holistic dentist Prue King believes the most important element in dental care is a good brushing and flossing technique. “Toothpaste isn’t essential. It helps with the taste and freshness of breath afterwards.”
Translating the tube
Abrasives For efficient tooth cleaning, toothpaste needs to be mildly abrasive. The abrasives we found in natural toothpastes are calcium carbonate, calcium hydrogen phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, dicalcium phosphate dehydrate, silica and sodium chloride. Humectants stop toothpaste hardening when it’s exposed to air. The common humectants we found in natural toothpastes are polyethylene glycols, glycerol and sorbitol (also artificial sweeteners).
Binders disperse or swell in the presence of water and are used to stabilise the toothpaste by preventing separation of the solid and liquid phases. Binding agents in natural toothpaste include natural gums such as arabic, tragacanth, xanthan and carrageenan. We also found corn starch extract, CMC (sodium carboxymethyl cellulose) and cellulose.
Detergents lower the surface tension and therefore help loosen plaque deposits and emulsify or suspend the debris removed from the tooth surface during cleaning. The detergents we found in some natural toothpaste brands are sodium lauryl sulphate which, along with sodium lauryl sarcosinate, can irritate the skin. Lauryl polyglucose and lauryl glucoside are milder detergents.
Flavours found in natural toothpastes are peppermint, fennel or liquorice, and the essential oils anise, clove, caraway, pimento, eucalyptus, citrus, menthol, nutmeg, thyme, cinnamon, sweet orange.
Preservatives Microbial contamination is restricted by a low water activity and the inclusion of preservatives such as hydroxyl-benzoates or methyl-paraben. Antibacterial agents can be added to help prevent gingivitis. In natural toothpastes we found zinc oxide and totarol.
Colour While some natural toothpastes we found had no added colour, others use titanium oxide for white, chlorophyll for green and CI42090, an artificial blue colour.
Sweeteners Artificial sweeteners include sorbitol (which is also a humectant), glycerol, xylitol (which can help prevent decay), stevia and sodium saccharin.