If you stroll down the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket, you’ll notice a range of what’s being touted as ‘natural toothpaste’. Once the province of health food stores, these toothpastes are now widely available, but does that make them good or effective when it comes to keeping dental disease at bay, and is there any real reason to avoid fluoridated toothpaste? The short answer to both questions is no.
I understand that there is significant controversy around this topic, but I’m a big advocate for fluoride and fluoridated toothpastes, and the research backs me up. Scientific evidence has repeatedly shown that toothpastes containing fluoride are more effective than natural ones, and there has never been any research to prove a link between fluoride and adverse health effects.
That said, if people ingest too much fluoride, they can experience ‘fluorosis’ which leaves teeth with white spots, streaks or discolouration. This is easily avoided though by ensuring that people, especially children, don’t swallow toothpaste.
I know that people have very strong beliefs about this issue and there is a stubborn perception of fluoride as being harmful. I’d never argue with a client if they felt that strongly about the issue. The mechanical action of brushing is important in and of itself. So, I guess brushing with a fluoride-free toothpaste is better than not brushing at all.
However, the fact remains that brushing is better when you use regular toothpaste as opposed to natural ones for a number of reasons. In particular, fluoride reduces cavities as well as repairing the early stages of tooth decay. Further, natural toothpastes lack some of the ingredients that act as lubricating agents in regular toothpastes, which means the mechanical action of brushing just isn’t as good.
If you have any qualms about fluoride, it’s important to keep in mind that fluoride as an active ingredient of toothpaste makes up only a very small proportion of total ingredients. The vast majority of ingredients are things like sodium lauryl sulphate (which creates the foaming action), water and glycerol, and abrasives in the case of whitening toothpastes. In essence, toothpaste is a bit like flavoured soap for your teeth.
This is because fluoride helps to re-mineralise areas of enamel that have become thin and weak, by replenishing lost calcium and phosphorus, and thereby strengthening the enamel around your teeth.
It does this at a nano-level by changing the structure of the atoms that bond the enamel in your teeth together. Once those bonds become stronger, your teeth become more resistant to acid attack. While you do get fluoride from water, it’s not enough to keep tooth decay at bay. You really do need to be brushing with fluoridated toothpastes as well.
At the end of the day, I’d rather my clients brush than not brush, so if that means using natural toothpastes then so be it. However, science categorically indicates that fluoride is better for your teeth.
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