I have a confession to make: as often as I discuss adopting healthy practices and taking care of yourself, some things I let slide…like going to the dentist twice a year. I only go once, that’s fine enough.
I’ve been lucky enough to not have any major issues with my teeth. Knock on wood I don’t have to worry about my wisdom teeth. I never needed braces. People have tended to randomly comment how white my teeth are, which is now less true since drinking coffee every day.
I don’t even use mouth wash or floss. Again, shame me all you want. I’ve always just brushed my teeth with an electric toothbrush and called it a day, not thinking much about it. At least until I did some digging, specifically into fluoride.
In every toothpaste commercial recommending the huge brand-name products, the announcer mentions how much dentists approve of it. All of these brands for conventional products contain fluoride…which means it’s good for our teeth, right?
In scientific terms, fluoride is a form of the chemical element fluorine. It’s naturally found in the soil and some foods, but the fluoride in your toothpaste was manufactured in a lab. This kind of fluoride is also in mouth washes and even water.
The main purpose for using fluoride in these products is to prevent tooth decay. Research has found that those who drink water higher in fluoride and use fluoride dental products have reduced tooth decay. This is through a process of demineralization and remineralization: when bacteria in the mouth combine with sugars, they produce acid that can erode tooth enamel, but fluoride can protect teeth and also accumulated in any demineralized areas to strengthen that enamel. Children need fluoride to protect their permanent teeth as they are being formed, and people with bridges, crowns and braces might particularly benefit from fluoride.
However, there are two sides to every story. While I mentioned that people drinking fluoride-infused water saw fewer cavities, most of the countries in Europe which do not have water fluoridation did not find that their incidences of dental cavities increased. And while scarce amounts of fluoride won’t harm you, too much of it can, known as dental fluorosis. Since recently finding out that 40 percent of American teens have this condition, the Department of Health has advised lowering current fluoride levels.
The recommended amount of fluoride been debated for years, as have the chemical’s negative effects. Reputable sources on both sides of the debate make opposing claims: Some say there’s no serious downside to fluoride, while others blame the chemical for all sorts of problems, including allergies, lower IQs, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. There doesn’t seem to be much middle-ground between the two extremes, but if you’ve ever wondered why you were always told to never swallow toothpaste or else call Poison Control, that’s why.
So if we want to avoid unnecessary exposure to toxic materials, what’s the alternative? Many more brands and options are popping up on store shelves toting natural ingredients and fluoride-free toothpastes. Are those as effective as the conventional products? Well, turns out, the toothpaste isn’t the make-or-break thing in preventing tooth decay. Purely the mechanical action of the toothbrush bristles and your dental floss disrupts the dental plaque that ultimately leads to tooth decay and gum disease. So you really don’t need toothpaste. Now, toothpaste does have some benefits of freshness and any sensitivity concerns, but as far as removing the causative factors for tooth decay and gum disease, the toothpaste itself is not as important as we assume.
Inevitably, we’re discovering new, more natural ways to practice dental hygiene. A trending one is oil pulling: the act of swishing oil in the mouth for up to 20 minutes to improve oral health. Coconut oil is especially effective as a natural antibacterial alternative shown to significantly reduce plaque formation and gum disease with consistent use.
There’s even research into new ingredients that act like fluoride without the potential harm. Although not ready yet for topical use, the Chinese herb Galla Chinensis (Wu Bei Zi, also known as Chinese gall or Chinese sumac) was found to have “strong potential to prevent dental caries due to its antibacterial capacity and tooth mineralization benefit.”
I encourage you to do your own research and see both sides of the debate, making a decision you feel most comfortable with. I personally have switched over to a natural toothpaste as a peace of mind knowing I’m supporting smaller brands and not contributing to the excess production of chemicals. Like I said, I’ve always used an electric toothbrush and, to me, that has made the most difference in my oral health.
Basically, you do you. Either way, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to products that we’re accustomed to, that we wouldn’t think otherwise. It’s food for thought…just brush your teeth afterwards.
Mindful meditation: God, in Your infinite power and wisdom, You have created humanity in Your image, full of curiosity to learn more about this world and all its intricacies. Guide our decisions so that we best cherish our bodies, minds, and the environment. Amen.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie