Take a look at most major brands of toothpaste and the ingredients might shock you – amongst an array of chemicals you’ll also find sweeteners, usually in the form of sodium saccharine.

Sodium Saccharine is around 300 times sweeter than sugar and is a known carcinogen. Yet it’s in our toothpaste. It’s added, along with a variety of other flavourings in order to mask the unpleasant taste of some of the other ingredients such as the detergents and phosphates.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Most toothpastes contain Sodium Laureth Sulphate (aka Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, or SLS) which is used to create foam. It’s a major ingredient in washing up liquid and does play some role in cleaning your teeth. But it isn’t essential and in some studies it has been shown that it can make human tissue (skin, scalp, mouth surfaces) more easily penetrated by other chemicals.

Tetrasodium pyrophosphate (TSPP) is sometimes used as a water softening agent. It removes calcium and magnesium from the saliva so that less plaque is formed. It is slightly unpleasant tasting and needs other ingredients (e.g. detergents) present to make it work. Toxnet rate it as moderately toxic.

Some toothpastes may contain Triclosan which helps kill plaque-forming microbes. Triclosan is a bio-persistent chemical which turns up in fish, breast milk and wastewater.

For that white “Hollywood” smile many toothpastes contain hydrogen peroxide. There are some health queries about the safety of this when used in concentrated amounts. One study, by Europa, concluded that most people suffered no problems from a 1.5% hydrogen peroxide solution used twice a day. However, hydrogen peroxide is also classed as a weak carcinogen and they therefore concluded that it should be sold in a 0.1% concentration only.

Another whitening ingredient is sodium hydroxide (caustic soda). This is considered a moderate hazard.

Worse though is carbamide peroxide, which is generally produced from perhydrol urea. This is an animal product and is rated as moderately toxic by the EWG (Environmental Working Group). It’s already banned in Canada.

Sodium carbonate peroxide is added to some whitening toothpastes. It breaks down into sodium carbonate (washing soda) and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide then bleaches the teeth and kills germs around the gums.

Titanium dioxide (also found in sunscreens) is used to make the toothpaste opaque and bright white. This is generally considered a Low hazard.

Polyethylenes such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) and other polymers are also found in many toothpastes. They are used to bind and stabilise. Health concerns include cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity and organ system toxicity.

Fluorides are used to harden the teeth and protect against decay. They work best when combined with surfactants (detergents) such as SLS and ALS. There are many health questions over the use of fluoride – and the jury is still out. Sodium fluoride is commonly used and is thought to be a cancer-causing agent (carcinogenic) in prolonged use. Sodium monofluorophosphate has similar properties.

Because many of the ingredients in toothpaste can be irritating Allantoin (thought to be harmless) is sometimes added to counter this.

And for the animal lover – remember that in the case of many of the major brands, your toothpaste will have been tested on animals.

The good news is – there are toothpastes that are effective, safe (i.e. don’t contain these nasties) and taste good.

I have recently been trying Sarakan.

The first thing you notice is the taste – it’s not that overpowering minty flavour. In fact it doesn’t taste minty at all. It also doesn’t foam up quite as much as other toothpastes. Personally I don’t like all that foam in my mouth, so that’s a definite bonus.

It cleans as well as any other toothpaste and my mouth feels fresh. So I can’t think of a good reason to continue pouring chemicals into my mouth twice a day.

As a bonus it’s not tested on animals, is suitable for vegans and is approved by The British Dental Health Foundation.

Sarakan toothpaste contains natural extract of Salvadora persica, also known as the ‘toothbrush tree’. In the Middle East, Africa and Asia this has apparently been used for centuries, in its natural twig state, as an effective way to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy.

For more information about Sarakan see http://www.sarakan.com

About the Author
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster.

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