Once in a while Ale comes up with yet another healthy/sustainable change. It is most of the time a minor thing, nothing startling, and I am happy to follow along. And I must admit, until our trip, I was not fully involved with having a more conscious lifestyle, that was more Ale’s thing. She did the research or came across a blog post, and instigated the change.
So here we are, traveling with half a kilo of homemade toothpaste (beat that you lightweight travellers) in a glass jar that decided to leak last week. So why do we go through all this trouble? Can’t we just buy that minty goo that can be found everywhere?
You see, the thing is, we’ve gotten really used to the things we have around. Our daily life’s actions and the products we buy. We have hundreds of different types of deodorant, facial creams, shampoos and toothpaste. We buy and use them without questioning. We don’t know better, and think our needs require for us to use the known products around. Until you start reading up on them.
So what’s in our toothpaste?
Besides water, colouring agents, thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners and flavour, there are some additional key ingredients that can be found in all the commonly marketed toothpastes. The first, and most important, are abrasives, which comprise around half of the toothpaste, and are what actually takes out the leftover food and cleans our teeth. Some examples of abrasives are baking soda, calcium carbonate and silicate. The goal of abrasives is to scrub, without damaging our teeth’s enamel (it’s protective layer).
Fluoride, strengthens our teeth’s enamel and thus is used to limit our susceptibility to cavities and teeth decay that comes with acid food and drinks. It is not only found in our toothpaste, but also in our food and water to a limited extent. Fluoride has always been a bit controversial. Those in favour praise it’s protective quality for teeth, but those against, warn about it’s toxicity. Scary stories roam around the internet relating it to kidney failure and cancer, although scientific evidence is very weak. Its main downside though, besides causing diarrhoea in kids when swallowed, is more of a cosmetic one. Excess fluoride ingestion during teeth development may cause Fluorosis, resulting in white or brown spots, and even the pitting of your enamel.
Surfactants, basically the soap in toothpaste, give the foamy effect when brushing our teeth, and make us have that cleaning feel. Mostly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is used, sometimes causing damage to the oral tissue, which can result in mouth ulcers and canker sores (those nasty little wounds in your cheeks) or bleeding when brushing. Although this may happen, many times it doesn’t.
Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that was introduces in many cosmetic products after concerns over bacteria in our every day life raised. It is used in toothpaste to prevent gingivitis (inflamed and sore gums). But it turns out that it is toxic for the environment and our health. In our body, problems occur after long term exposure. Triclosan is contributing to bacterias’ resistance to antibiotics, and is a reported endocrine disrupter, that messes with your hormonal system (we’ll write about this later on). The European Union banned it’s use in many (cosmetic) products (they still allow it in concentrations below 0,3%). In the US it is prohibited in hand soaps, but can still be found in toothpaste.
Humectants prevent toothpastes from drying out and give it texture. It has been shown that they help prevent tooth decay and a dry mouth. Glycerol and Sorbitol are amongst the most commonly used, of which the latter can be laxative for children.
Micro beads, part of the bigger micro plastics group, can be found in some toothpastes and other cosmetic products, used because of their abrasive character and to give the product a nice colour. Besides them being bad for your health, they cause a lot of harm to the environment, slipping through the filtration systems of water plants and thus, ending up in rivers and oceans, being eaten by fish and other sea life and finally ending back on our plates. Awareness is growing, and concern over micro beads’ destructive power is leading some countries to ban them (the UK being the latest). However, there still is no concise ban from all big players, like for example the whole of the EU.
So what’s the fuzz.
You may be thinking: great that I now know all of this, but I’m not swallowing my toothpaste and can do without the microbeads. So what’s the fuzz? Quite frankly, maybe not much. None of the ingredients cause a lot of harm (that we know of), although I would avoid Triclosan, be cautious with Fluoride around kids, and ban micro plastics all together (we’ll write an article about this later on). And some ingredients in our toothpaste do help prevent our mouth from becoming a rotting cave. Abrasives for scrubbing our teeth, fluoride to protect the enamel, and certain special toothpastes can help with special needs.
But commonly sold toothpastes also don’t have magical powers. They are a commercial cosmetic products that at the end of the day, contain way more than what is necessary to clean out teeth. It is the brushing and flossing of our teeth, and the technique, time and attention spent every day on them, that prevents the plaque and cavities from occurring. This doesn’t mean toothpaste has no use at all. But what is commonly sold now contains many byproducts we can (and maybe should) live without.
It would be great if your partner talked to you in the morning with the breath of an angel, instead of blowing rotten cheese up your nose. But is your current toothpaste really giving you what you want? Is the money spent and useless packaging discarded, worth the five minutes of minty breath? Not for us.
Now we realise that common toothpaste, the one that can be bought in the supermarket, is just part of a marketing strategy. Many cosmetic products are in fact designed to make us believe we have a need that isn’t actually real. I mean, last week we even came across a toothpaste for men. Because there’s nothing more manly that brushing the awful morning stank away, whilst looking stoically in the mirror. With the right toothpaste of course.
What else can we use?
Natural toothpastes are appearing in the market and slowly cleaner options are becoming available. We, on the other hand, have decided to make our own toothpaste. One with two simple ingredients. This is the reason for the extra travel weight we’re carrying.
If you also want to make your own, an easy google search will result in many varying recipes and reviews. We went for the most simple. And it works for us. All you need is baking soda and organic coconut oil. The latter one is optional, but it makes the paste a bit creamier and nicer. We started of with a ratio of 1 to 2, but now have gone fifty fifty.
When Ale first talked about it being salty, and how it would need some getting used to, I honestly thought it would be a no-go. Something we would quickly abandon. But it wasn’t the case at all. Strangely enough, I quite liked it from the first moment onwards. We haven’t had any issues with sensitivity (some people complain about that with baking soda), and call me crazy, but I feel like my morning breath is better than it was before.
Whilst writing this, we have been using this homemade toothpaste for two years, with no issues (so far). We were a bit nervous for our dentist’s appointment 6 months after switching over, scared of what she was going to say. We went through the test without telling her about our change of product, fingers crossed. The verdict: our teeth were fine, in a great state, and no concerns were raised. As long as we keep taking care for our teeth, we won’t have any problems.
As for you, choose whatever toothpaste you like. But remember, the key is to brush often, with a good technique, taking your time. Keep in mind the ingredients used and the cosmetic marketing tricks. Any toothpaste will do, but we can highly recommend going DIY and making your own. It is easy, inexpensive and not harmful for anyone. And the best thing is, it is better for the environment!