This weekend we finally finished off the toothpaste we have been using since last year, purchased before our plastic-free adventure began. We had a bit of a stockpile of the old stuff to use up, but now the last little bit is gone, and from now on I’m gonna make my own.
I’ve been suspicious of conventional toothpastes for a while and stopped buying them 18 months ago. Conventional toothpastes are full of cleaning agents, detergents, preservatives, anti-microbial agents, and thickeners, and many of these ingredients are questionable in terms of their effects on the body.
Three Nasties in Conventional Toothpaste
Sodium lauryl sulphate
This is added as a foaming agent and detergent. It is a known irritant.
This is added to toothpaste to help prevent cavities. However it is toxic by ingestion and can be fatal. It can affect the heart and circulatory system. In younger children too much fluoride can cause fluorosis, which is when the enamel of the teeth is discoloured and the teeth have brown markings.
This an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent used in toothpaste to help prevent gum disease. However, it has a number of other impacts on humans and the environment. For example, triclosan is fairly stable and fat soluble, meaning it can accumulate in the body. It has been found in blood, urine and breast milk. It is a demonstrated endocrine disruptor and has potential links to breast cancer.
Despite its stability, it can react with chlorine in tap water and sunlight to form toxic intermediate and breakdown products such as dioxins, which are highly toxic, and chloroform, which is a carcinogen. Triclosan is also toxic to aquatic bacteria, phytoplankton, algae and fish. (This fully referenced fact sheet is great if you want more information.)
There are also concerns that its widespread use may cause resistance in bacteria similar to the way antibiotic-resistant bacteria developed.
So what are the alternatives?
You can buy natural toothpastes but they are expensive (and some still contain questionable ingredients), and they almost all come in plastic packaging. Making your own safe, inexpensive, packaging-free toothpaste seems to be the best solution.
How to Make your Own Toothpaste
You can make your own toothpaste simply in just a couple of minutes using only a handful of ingredients.
Bicarb soda – is an abrasive agent that removes dental plaque and food from teeth. It also neutralises stains and odours.
Sodium chloride (salt) – is a mild abrasive and also has anti-bacterial properties.
Glycerine/glycerol – is a sweet-tasting colourless odourless liquid that makes the paste smooth, provides lubrication and acts as a humectant, helping the toothpaste retain water. You can buy glycerine at a pharmacy.
Peppermint oil – this gives the toothpaste its minty taste. You can also use other essential oils but ensure they are food grade.
4 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp sodium chloride (salt)
3 tsp glycerine
8 – 10 drops peppermint oil
Measure dry ingredients into a bowl. Add glycerine and stir to form a paste. Add essential oil.
Alternative Recipe – Glycerine-Free Toothpaste
There is a lot of information on the internet regarding glycerine in toothpaste. It all seems to come from one source, Dr Gerard F. Judd, who wrote a book called ‘Good Teeth, Birth to Death‘ published in 1996 in which he claimed glycerine coats the teeth and prevents remineralisation. I have not read the book but if using glycerine in toothpaste is something that concerns you, you can replace the glycerine with coconut oil.
Coconut oil has anti-microbial properties and because it is solid below 25ºC it works well as a glycerine substitute.
To make this version use the recipe above but substitute 3 tsp glycerine for 2 tsp coconut oil.
The Taste Test
Neither toothpaste willtaste like conventional toothpaste, so don’t be surprised! Bicarb soda and the salt make the taste very salty. The glycerine version is slightly sweeter and has more of the texture of conventional toothpaste. It has a higher melting point, whereas the coconut oil will melt in your mouth – literally – and has a mild coconut taste and the texture of oil. If you’re not worried about glycerine (and if you’ve been using conventional toothpaste you’ve probably been using glycerine in that) I would recommend starting with that, and once you get used to the taste you could consider making the switch to coconut oil.