But, some people are opting out of conventional toothpaste because of the chemical ingredients and choosing more natural ways to brush away plaque and keep teeth and gums healthy.
"Toothpaste has a lot of additive ingredients," says Dr. Keith Arbeitman, a leading New York-based dentist at Arbeitman and Shein. He points out one ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate — a common additive that helps toothpaste work more efficiently — which prompts people to look for unconventional alternatives, especially among people who are prone to canker sores.
He also suggests fluoride is another reason some people are wary of ordinary toothpaste. "There's a growing community of people that believe we are over-exposed to fluoride," says Arbeitman. "Particularly in communities that have fluoridated water, you want to be careful to avoid too much exposure to this powerful element," he continues.
Arbeitman advises before you drop your regular toothpaste for a more natural option, you need to have a conversation with your dentist. "It's important to have a conversation with your dentist to arrive at what the best toothpaste is for you," he says. "Those more prone to cavities, may need a higher fluoride concentration while those with fewer cavities may benefit from no fluoride."
"Oil pulling is a great and safe way to detox your mouth," says Arbeitman. He continues, "It seems to really lift away plaque and whiten teeth in a very safe and gentle manner." He suggests that one of the reasons oil pulling isn't more popular is the time it takes to practice every morning. "Problem is that to do it right, you need to do it for 20 minutes at a time," he explains, since traditional brushing only takes two minutes.
"Some oils have antimicrobial properties and can be used as a dentifrice," says Mark Helm, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist based in Beverly Hills, California. He suggests using essential oils like clove, peppermint and cinnamon oils on your pearly whites, which can help rid your mouth of bacteria.
Although there are products selling toothpaste alternatives that contain sea salt, Arbeitman says you need to exercise caution. "Be careful with sea salt as salt is corrosive and if you have metal fillings or crowns, it may have a negative long-term effect," he warned.
Sea salt can be useful if you're careful, he says, adding, "An aspect of the sea salt-based toothpaste that I like is that the salt increases salivary flow which has a number of oral health benefits."
"Brushing with activated charcoal is a bit of a buzz-worthy concept at the moment," suggests Arbeitman. But, he also advises that patients be careful when using such a substance in place of traditional toothpaste. "The size of the molecule is really effective at whitening the teeth, but charcoal is very abrasive and has the potential to damage the teeth if used often," he adds.
If you're looking for really unconventional or you're stuck with no other option, you can see what nature has to offer in terms of oral care. "Eucalyptus, fir and oak twigs are good for using as 'toothbrush' chew sticks," says Helm.
Arbeitman suggests that anyone using an unconventional form of toothpaste should understand the potential risks before making the switch. "If you use products that are untested, you're the guinea pig that may have to deal with some unwanted and unknown side effects," he says. He suggests looking for the American Dental Association seal of approval on toothpaste products since they're tested for safety and to not ignore "unusual sensitivity or discomfort you might experience when using these less conventional methods" because "it may be a sign of a developing problem."
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