Are you looking for something new to perk up your mouth and gums? Perhaps it’s time to step away from conventional toothpaste and try a natural, safe alternative. Are you game?
Why natural alternatives to conventional toothpaste The vast majority of toothpastes on grocery and other store shelves are vehicles for synthetic, often toxic ingredients that can have a negative impact on your health. Considering toothpaste is something most people use several times a day and that it makes contact with your mouth (which is the entryway to your digestive tract) and susceptible membranes, it makes sense to keep toxic exposure to a minimum.
Take fluoride, for example. We’ve been told for decades that this mineral can help prevent cavities, but in reality, it doesn’t do such a good job and can be toxic to boot. Then there is titanium dioxide, which may be carcinogenic. Sodium lauryl sulfate makes toothpaste foamy, which may seem like a great feature. However, although this substance is derived from coconuts, it becomes contaminated with a toxic byproduct during manufacturing and has been linked to endocrine disruption, skin irritation, organ and nervous system toxicity, and cancer.
Glycerin is often found in both conventional and natural toothpastes. While this ingredient serves to prevent toothpaste from drying out, it also coats the teeth and can prevent them from the natural remineralization process. Last but not least, most toothpastes contain artificial sweeteners, which have a litany of negative health-related issues.
Choosing natural toothpaste alternatives
The list of natural alternatives to conventional toothpaste is quite extensive, but I’ll limit this offering to a baker’s dozen.
Sea salt. Dissolve a half a teaspoon of sea salt into a small amount of water (make a watery paste) and brush. Adding the water significantly reduces the amount of abrasion to your teeth.
Baking soda. This is an old-time, tried-and-true natural toothpaste option. It may not taste great, but it works. Speaking of taste, baking soda is the basis of many natural toothpaste recipes, such as this one: 2/3 cup baking soda, ½ to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, and 10 to 15 drops peppermint, orange, or spearmint essential oil (which gives your DIY toothpaste a great taste). Mix together with enough filtered water until you reach the desired consistency
Tooth soap. Yes, there is such a thing as tooth soap. Be sure to choose one that doesn’t have any additives. Tooth soap is available as a liquid, gel, whip, and shreds.
Coconut oil. Using coconut oil has several advantages. One, it possesses antibacterial and antifungal properties. Two, it can be used alone or mixed with other ingredients (e.g., baking soda, essential oils) to create your own natural toothpaste. Another way to use coconut oil is oil pulling: swish 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for about 10 minutes, spit, then brush with plain water (or another method). [Editor's Note: We recommend coconut oil from Barlean's, Lily of the Desert or NowFoods].
Oral irrigation. Use of an oral irrigation product (e.g., Waterpik) has been shown to be highly effective in supporting oral health. You can use either plain or salted water.
Turmeric. This common herb possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiplaque properties that lend themselves well to supporting your oral health. In a study that used turmeric mouthwash, there was clear evidence that the herbal wash controlled plaque and helped prevent gingivitis. An easy DIY turmeric toothpaste consists of ¼ teaspoon or turmeric powder mixed with just enough mustard oil to create a paste. Rinse well after brushing. Similarly, make a mouthwash using 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder mixed into 8 ounces of warm water. Swish for 30 seconds and then spit.
Twigs. This idea may be too rustic for most folks, but in the interest of offering lots of options, you might consider chewing on twigs. More specifically, the twigs of lime, orange, or eucalyptus trees reportedly are effective. Chew them until they are soft-you can avoid splinters that way!
Bentonite clay. Mineral-rich bentonite clay can help your teeth remineralize while also fighting gum disease and improving your breath. Combine 1 tablespoon of bentonite clay with 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, and several drops of peppermint or spearmint extract to create a bentonite clay toothpaste.
Activated charcoal. Why would you use something black on your teeth to clean them? Because it works! Powdered activated charcoal consists of microparticles that help adsorb plaque and other elements that can stain your teeth. Simply dip your wet toothbrush into the powdered charcoal, brush, and rinse well. One word of warning, however: do not use activated charcoal if you have caps on your teeth.
Neem. Also known as Indian lilac, neem possesses antibacterial and antiseptic properties. You can rub neem extract on your teeth, allow it to stay on your teeth for a minute or two, then brush it off. Another option is to chew on a neem stick until it is soft, then brush with the softened stick.
Licorice root. Dried licorice root powder cleans your teeth as well as provides antibacterial properties that can help prevent plaque accumulation and boost the health of your gums. These benefits of licorice root are attributed to licoricidin and licorisoflavan, two compounds found in the herb.
Orange peel. Don’t toss that orange peel! For whiter, shiny teeth, rub the inside of fresh orange peels (organic if possible) on your teeth and gums. Wait 5 minutes and then rinse your mouth. If you don’t have fresh orange peels, you can use powdered orange peel to brush your teeth. It’s been shown that the limonene in the peels helps break down plaque, while the vitamin C can help prevent tooth decay and freshen your breath.
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