As a child, one of the things I hated was cleaning my teeth. If fact, even now my family love to tease me about my oral hygiene and remind me how slack I was when I was younger. The thing is, at the moment I am having the last laugh with a completely cavity free set of teeth. I admit that it must be mostly luck as it’s true that I was pretty slack with tooth brushing in the past, and even now it’s something that I have to consciously remind myself to do each day.
One of the only things I can really connect my good fortune in the oral health department with, is the fluoridated water we have here in Adelaide. My family have always used tap water in favour of bottled water, and even though we sometimes mixed it with cordial growing up, we still drank from the tap a lot.
I am not going to lie, I am the worst when it comes to going to the dentist, which means that looking after my teeth at home is crucial to maintain my current record with cavities. So when I was sent some natural, fluoride free toothpastes from Weleda and Lush, I was interested to learn why some people opt for a fluoride free toothpaste and whether it could be detrimental to the health of my teeth and gums.
The Fluoride Free Argument
I had never thought about going fluoride free so I was surprised to learn that it was even a choice you could make. I was very curious to know why someone might opt for a fluoride free toothpaste. When I was discussing my findings with my sister, she confessed that she uses a fluoride free toothpaste, not for health reasons, but because it is important to her to use cruelty free brands, and she is yet to find a cruelty free fluoride toothpaste.
Even though fluoride inhibits bacteria’s ability to produce acids that weaken teeth, and remineralizes areas where acid damage has already occurred, it’s still a toxin. Overdosing on fluoride can actually cause a type of tooth decay called dental fluorosis, and some studies have noted possible links to osteoporosis, thyroid problems, endocrine problems and cancers. Back in the 50s fluoride was actually used to treat hyperthyroidism, because it is thought to bring the function of the thyroid down. A high enough dose of fluoride, ie ingesting half a tube of toothpaste, could even prove fatal for a young child. Probably the most compelling piece of evidence against the use of fluoride is that instances of tooth decay seem to be dropping at a steady rate, whether or not the area has fluoridated water or not. in 2001 a study conducted by the US Centre for Disease Control stated that increased amounts of fluoride in tooth enamel did not equate to lower rates of cavities.
With fluoride being added to drinking water in many countries around the world, people who have concerns about the health risks of ingesting fluoride may have a hard time avoiding it. People who wish to limit or eliminate their intake of fluoride argue that adding fluoride to drinking water is ‘mass medication.’ Fluoride is not an essential mineral to the body, it’s not added to any multivitamins for example, so aside from its effects on plaque and tooth enamel, it doesn’t have any other benefits. If you want to limit your intake of fluoride in a country with fluoridated water, you would have to use bottled water for all of your drinking, cooking and teeth cleaning. Carbon filters such as Pura Tap and Brita,do not remove fluoride.
Using a fluoride free toothpaste is another measure to limit the intake of fluoride. Fluoride free toothpastes are often free of sodium laureth sulfate as well, which is a detergent and foaming agent known to cause skin irritation and often avoided by people who prefer plant based skincare. Instead these toothpastes use gentle abrasives like salt and bi-carb soda, xylitol and sorbitol which neutralises acid in the mouth and helps to stop bacteria from sticking to teeth, and essential oils (peppermint, spearmint etc) for freshening the breath.
The Argument For Fluoride
There is little doubt that most dentists and oral heath care professionals recommend fluoride as a way to maintain healthy teeth. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral and is actually present in water already, the amount is artificially raised in some countries to optimum levels for protecting tooth enamel. When children eat or drink fluoride in small doses, it enters the bloodstream and becomes part of their developing permanent teeth. Fluoride toothpastes and treatments strengthen teeth from the outside and speed up remineralization. Also, most importantly, acids are less able to damage tooth enamel strengthened by fluoride.
Back in medieval times, when sugar was not widely available, cavities in teeth were rarely seen. In fact, skulls that have been found by archaeologists from that time, where most people ate an entirely grain based diet, often have a full set of healthy teeth. The introduction of sugar had a negative impact on oral health and the discovery of the effects of fluoride on teeth, have made a huge difference worldwide. Fluoride is particularly effective as a preventative to acid attacks and has shown to be beneficial to the forming adult teeth in children.
Over the last few years there has been research into the effects of fluoride being added to water and some speculation as to how effective it actually is in preventing cavities, however there seems to be little doubt that fluoride does have a positive impact when supporting forming teeth in children and when used in toothpaste and fluoride treatments. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children who drink bottled water in favour of tap water, or who use natural toothpastes, have more cavities than children who ingest and apply fluoride topically. Dentists and dental therapists are the ones who see the effects of fluoride every day, and they are certainly still recommending its use.
Although tooth decay seems to be on the decline, even in areas where the water does not have added fluoride, it has been proven that overall oral hygiene is better in areas where natural water fluoridation is higher.
Weleda Natural Toothpaste
When I first tried the Weleda Salt Toothpaste, I thought I hadn’t used enough. It doesn’t contain any SLS so there is no foam, and I’ll be honest, it feels weird. I read a review that suggested you should put it onto a dry toothbrush so I tried that as well. The Salt Toothpaste is minty and salty, and is a brown colour, which is rather shocking at first. It kind of liquifies in your mouth and if you use too much, as I did at first, it does tend to try and escape (gross, I know). The toothpaste is quite gritty and at first I noticed that it really hurt my gums, especially where my two top teeth meet in the middle. However, it didn’t take long to get used to the sensation and for my gums to feel less sensitive. The abrasives in this make your teeth feel so clean and your breath is left fresh. I don’t notice much difference with a wet or dry toothbrush, but the liquid nature does lend itself to being used in the shower, so if it runs down your chin, you’re not making a mess.
The Calendula Toothpaste doesn’t foam either but it has a thicker texture so it feels a little more cushioning on the gums. It’s less abrasive than the Salt Toothpaste but still leaves your teeth feeling squeaky clean. The strangest thing about the Calendula Toothpaste is that it doesn’t contain peppermint. It took a little while to grow on me, but I really enjoy the aniseed taste it has, and because it’s quite strong, it definitely freshens your breath and gives your mouth an overall clean feeling. The best part is that you can drink right after and not be assaulted with that awful mint/sweet combo. Being peppermint free is also good for those people who might be taking homeopathic remedies and need to avoid mint.
Lush Tooth Powder and Toothy Tabs
Lush tooth products are the opposite of the Weleda in terms of foam, they foam so much! They use bi-carb soda as an abrasive which gives your teeth that lovely smooth feeling. I have to admit that I am not a fan of the Toothy Tabs as I just find them too difficult to break down. Perhaps that is user error, but the Tooth Powder eliminates the problem of having chunks floating around your mouth, so I naturally gravitate towards them for the ease of use.
To use the Dirty Toothy Tabs, you just nibble the tablet between your teeth and then use a wet toothbrush to scrub your teeth. The minty, herby flavor is very strong and freshens breath well. I find that half a tab is all I need and when I use a whole one, the foam runs down my chin. Unfortunately these need to be kept away from water, so they are ideal for travelling (no leakage) but they are no good to be kept in the shower. These might be handy for keeping in your handbag with a small toothbrush, or in your office drawer.
Tooth Power is used by dipping your wet toothbrush into the power and then brushing. These have a perfect amount of foam for my taste, it’s cushioning on the gums but doesn’t burst out of your mouth. The flavours are fun too! Tooth Fairy has a mild strawberry flavour, which is something a bit different, although it doesn’t leave you with that typical minty fresh breath feeling. But, it’s perfect for eating and drinking right after, especially if you clean your teeth and then eat breakfast. Ultrablast is mint and wasabi, which concerned me, but it’s a very pleasant cooling sensation in your mouth. Again, these need to be protected from coming into contact with water and I was worried about the powder clumping up after having the wet toothbrush dipped in, but no problems so far. I have brought the Ultrablast to work with me, and (for the first time ever) I look forward to brushing my teeth when I feel like a bit of a freshen up.
My Final Thoughts
Wow, this is a hard one. When I first started researching this post, I reached out to my aunt who is a Dental Therapist, and she is firmly on the fluoride side. I trust her advice as she works with children’s teeth every day and sees first hand the effects of including, and not including fluoride via water and oral care products. Plus, how can I explain my cavity free smile?
But then I saw that the World Health Organisation has reported that millions of people around the world are suffering from side effects of ingesting too much fluoride through high levels in natural water sources. Over 10 million people in China are thought to suffer from skeletal fluorosis. Along with recent studies suggesting that fluoride is not as helpful as originally thought at reducing cavities, it is concerning to me. The US Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency announced in January 2011 that they would like to set the recommended level of fluoride at the lowest end of the optimal range to prevent tooth decay, and to me, that seems like the most reasonable option for artificially fluoridated water.
Will I start to avoid tap water and fluoride toothpaste? No
Will I continue to use fluoride free toothpaste? Yes
Am I concerned about the effects of using fluoride free toothpaste? No
I have learned a lot about fluoride and fluoridated water and I am definitely thankful to live in country where the levels of fluoride in drinking water (even if they are manually set) are safe. I no longer have any hesitations about using fluoride free toothpaste and I am enjoying the options from Lush and Weleda.