All of us love the tangy smell and taste of toothpaste — aah, that fresh feeling in the morning! But, how many of us have really cared to find out what there is in our toothpaste beyond that minty, fresh flavour?
There are as many types of toothpastes as ‘biscuit brands’ at the local store. The point to bear in mind though is all toothpastes, like biscuits, are made of certain ingredients — to give them flavour, colour, texture, or a ‘pasty’ appearance.
Of course, there are variations too, some claiming to be more effective than the others. A few examples include: toothpaste for sensitive teeth, toothpaste for bad breath, Sodium lauryl sulphate [SLS]-free toothpaste, and ‘natural’ herbal toothpastes.
With so many variations available, how do you know if your toothpaste is safe? By understanding the ingredients, you can decide for yourself.
Abrasives. Most toothpastes have the following ingredients — abrasives, binders, preservatives and, most notably, fluoride and water. In other words, sodium bicarbonate, sodium metaphosphate, calcium carbonate, alumina trihydrate, magnesium trisilicate and silica gels. High levels of abrasives can harm your teeth by weakening the enamel. Sounds confusing? The solution is simple. Go for a toothpaste having a mild abrasive [sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda] to remove stains.
Detergents. Surfactants, or detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulphate [SLS], are used to give the foaming effect in certain toothpastes. SLS is reportedly a cancer-causing substance. The solution is simple. Go for a toothpaste that is ‘SLS-free.’
Flavours. Toothpastes contain certain flavours — viz., mint, peppermint, spearmint, neem and wintergreen, apart from fennel, lavender and other exotic herbs. Test for sensitivity, because not all ‘natural’ ingredients suit everyone. The reason is simple. Some natural essences may cause allergies and tissue irritation in sensitive individuals.
Calcium Phosphate. Certain toothpastes are formulated with calcium phosphate [the less its content, the better though] to strengthen the enamel. Likewise, some humectants help to retain moisture; for example, glycerine and water. They may be relatively safe.
Xanthan Gum. Some toothpastes use xanthan gum, which is comparatively safe. Test for sensitivity in any case. Because, xanthan gum can cause irritation, gas and bloating, including respiratory allergy, in hypersensitive individuals.
Preservatives. It is obvious certain preservatives that prevent micro-organisms from growing are used in toothpaste — e.g., sodium benzoate, methyl and ethyl paraben. Opt for a toothpaste that contains sodium benzoate, because it is relatively safe. The only caveat is: sodium benzoate may ‘heighten’ attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] in children. This is because some kids are prone to ‘swallow’ their toothpaste. Also avoid toothpaste that contains citric acid, because it can sometimes cause tummy ache, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, especially in children.
Sweeteners. Sweeteners, such as saccharin, stevia, or xylitol are often used to improve the taste of toothpaste. Go for a toothpaste having xylitol, because it has multiple benefits — increased flow of saliva and, in turn, reduced tooth decay. Stevia is equally good, but for its bitter after-taste.
Colours & Dyes. Colouring agents and artificial dyes are not uncommon in commercial toothpastes. Titanium dioxide is often used to make them white. The ingredient is evidenced to be carcinogenic though. It is also incompatible with strong acids. So, avoid its use.
THE FLUORIDE EFFECT
Fluoride is a huge advertising idiom. It has also been a controversial topic — ever since its discovery for ‘preventing’ tooth decay. Sceptics contend that fluoride has too many side-effects that far offset its benefits. The best way to help prevent tooth decay, as most dentists recommend, is to eat healthy, nutritious food and maintain good oral hygiene. Fluoride, as researchers also contend, is not required if [a ‘big’ if] you follow a healthy lifestyle and brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly. Fluoride, found in toothpaste, is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. There are no warnings on toothpaste labels in many countries. In fact, there is enough fluoride in a toothpaste tube to kill a little child.
SAFE 'BEST' TOOTHPASTE
Neem [Azadirachta indica] toothpaste, manufactured under strict compliance and good manufacturing practices [GMP] is evidenced to be safe. But, remember that the ‘best’ neem toothpaste has to be free from diethylene glycol [DEG]. Research suggests that swallowing DEG can trigger nausea, abdominal pain, urinary problems, kidney failure, breathing problems, lethargy, convulsions, coma and sometimes death in susceptible individuals.
The ‘caveat’ is simple. Do not get carried away by tall claims on the label.
Remember — when you opt for the ‘perfect’ and ‘safe’ toothpaste with a flavour you like, it can certainly help to retain the smile on your face, for all good, healthy reasons and for all seasons. However, it is imperative for you to consider that it is not just the toothpaste you use that matters; much also depends on the action of the toothbrush that gets rid of the plaque, which frequently builds up on the teeth and gums, every day.
Learn to read between the lines, understand the ingredients and decide for yourself [in consultation with your dentist] what toothpaste is ‘best’ suited for your individual needs.