Alternative ‘Toothpastes’ Are A Thing—But Do They Work?

You may have heard your eco-loving friend tout the benefits of a baking soda alternative toothpaste, or your Paleo-obsessed pal talk about “dirt” toothpaste. Maybe you’ve even seen a sea salt-based paste at your favorite natural food store, or heard that toothpastes exist with unexpected ingredients like wasabi. It’s starting to sound like you can brush your teeth with just about anything these days. But do these alt-oral care products actually clean your teeth and prevent cavities?

We asked dentists to weigh in on the effectiveness of some of the more common ingredients you’ll find in these products. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Charcoal

It seems counterintuitive that something that is synonymous with “black” can help whiten your teeth, but charcoal, found in Curapox Black is White Toothpaste and others, might. The abrasiveness of charcoal helps remove stains, William Graves, D.M.D, of Amarillo Oral & Maxillofacial in Amarillo, Texas, tells SELF. But that’s not all. Cavities occur when certain bacteria in the mouth overgrow and utilize sugar from our food to create acid. This acid is what causes tooth decay over time. “Charcoal helps raise the pH in your mouth,” Graves says, which helps neutralize these acids. Who shouldn’t use charcoal-based toothpaste? Steer clear of them if you have crowns or veneers, because it can stain them. “The small particles of charcoal can work their way into porcelain,” Graves cautions.

It’s also important to note that we’re talking about toothpastes made with charcoal, not brushing with straight charcoal. That’s going to be way too abrasive, and most dentists caution against scrubbing your teeth with something that gritty, especially when there’s no proof it’s a better option than regular toothpaste. Layliev assures that for a commercially made paste like Curapox, the abrasivity is usually generally low, so there’s not really any danger there.

2. Baking soda

The trusty home and beauty staple serves as the base of many a DIY and alternative toothpastes, but while its abrasiveness will clean your teeth, it’s not without its downsides. “Although baking soda does help to remove plaque, it doesn’t kill any bacteria, and that can actually increase cavity formation in your teeth,” Emanuel Layliev, D.D.S, director of New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, tells SELF. In addition, those same abrasive properties that help clean your teeth can also damage the enamel, he says, so it’s best to use baking soda and baking soda-heavy products only occasionally.

3. Bentonite clay

Why would anyone brush their teeth with dirt, of all things? As fans of The Dirt Super Natural Toothbrushing Powder will tell you, the brand is all-natural, GMO-free, and Paleo-approved. Is that enough to make it worth $30 for a six-month supply? “The real benefit of bentonite clay is that it is abrasive enough to remove the plaque but not so much so that it will do damage to your enamel,” Graves says. Like charcoal, it may also help raise the pH of your mouth, making it more challenging for bacteria to grow.

4. Kaolin clay

Also called China clay, you’ll find this ingredient in face masks, and now, tons of alternative toothpastes, including Layliev’s favorite brand, Dentisse. Kaolin is full of minerals, which could hypothetically bolster or “remineralize” the natural mineral content of the teeth. There aren’t any good studies to back up this claim, though. The clay is also really smooth and gentle on the teeth, and has similar benefits to bentonite clay in terms of pH.

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is known to be anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory and it’s possible your grandmother used it as a toothache remedy. It’s used in many mainstream toothpastes, but is also an ingredient in many DIY toothpastes. If you use cinnamon in too strong a concentration or too frequently, you may wind up with red and white patches in your mouth that burn. “I’ll occasionally see a patient with a condition called cinnamon-induced oral mucosal contact reaction,” explains Graves. If this happens to you, you’ll need to stop using cinnamon-flavored products, including toothpastes and gum.

6. Coconut oil

If you’re a fan of oil pulling or a lover of Greensations Coconut Oil Toothpaste, there’s good news and bad news for you. Coconut oil has been shown to help prevent and treat oral candida infections (better known as thrush). However, whether it will reduce cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth is still in question, Graves says. (Some small studies suggest its antibacterial ability helps reduce plaque and gingivitis, but more research is needed for a solid conclusion.)

7. Sea salts

Sodium is another one of those ingredients that defies logic. Isn’t too much salt a bad thing? Not when it comes to brushing your teeth. “Sea salts can temporarily raise the pH in your mouth, which makes it more difficult for bacteria to thrive,” Graves says. That’s why it’s also a top ingredient in homemade toothpastes. You’ll also find it in Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste.

8. Wasabi

Perhaps the wackiest idea of all is to brush your teeth with wasabi, the sinus-clearing, tonsil-burning sushi condiment. Well, isothiocyanates, the same substances responsible for that hot taste,have been shown to inhibit the growth of cavity forming bacteria, Graves says. Look for it in the new Lush Ultrablast Tooth Powder.

The way you get the toothpaste or powder on your brush is important, too.

Some of the tooth powders, including Lush’s and The Dirt, come in jars or tubs that you dip your brush into. While we’re a fan of anything that reduces landfill waste (traditional toothpaste tubes aren’t recycled in most areas), it’s not very sanitary to dip your toothbrush directly into the container, particularly if you’re sharing with your SO or roommate. “Your saliva does contain simple sugars that bacteria need to grow and multiply,” Graves says. “Though many of these products contain anti-microbial ingredients, it’s hard for me to believe that they wouldn’t grow bacteria” if you’re constantly adding sugary saliva to the mix. A better idea is to dip a clean teaspoon into the powder and apply that to your toothbrush.

While many of these ingredients seem to offer oral care benefits, none of these products have been approved by the American Dental Association. The ADA has a formal approval process, and human clinical studies need to be available to back up claims and prove the product is safe and effective. If an alt toothpaste doesn’t have that seal, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It does mean that the research behind the ingredients is probably a bit lacking. When it comes down to it, though, Graves says, “The physical act of brushing your teeth is important for removing plaque, regardless of your choice of toothpaste.”

Link to original article by Anne Fritz 

7 Signs of Disease Your Teeth Can Reveal

You may have type 2 diabetes

Red, swollen gums that may bleed are the hallmarks of periodontal disease—an incredibly common condition that affects more than 47 percent of Americans 30 and older and more than 70 percent of adults 65 and older, according to the CDC. Periodontal disease is brought on by bacteria in the mouth that infect the tissues and create plaque. “Diabetes makes periodontal disease worse,” says Paulo Camargo, DDS, professor of periodontics and associate dean for clinical dental sciences at UCLA School of Dentistry.”Periodontal disease can also make the blood sugar more difficult to control.” Research shows that diabetes is a major risk factor for periodontitis, a more serious form of periodontal disease that can damage soft tissues and destroy the bone that supports teeth. In fact, people with diabetes are three times more susceptible to developing periodontitis than those who aren’t diabetic. “If gums bleed a lot and are swollen or the patient is having frequent abscesses or infections, the dentist might start to question if you have a family history of diabetes,” says Sally Cram, DDS, a periodontist in Washington, DC, and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Diabetes isn’t the only health problem associated with periodontal disease: The disease, which triggers a harmful, inflammatory response, is also linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. These are other type 2 diabetes symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

You have acid reflux

Eating garlic knots and forgetting to brush your tongue aren’t the only causes of bad breath. In some cases, especially if you already have a solid brushing and flossing regimen in place, a lingering case of halitosis can signal a health problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You may not even know you have it since GERD is sometimes a silent condition and can occur during sleep. But over time, GERD can wear away your teeth. In fact, research shows that 24 percent of people with GERD have tooth erosion, which a dentist can easily spot. These are other silent signs of acid reflux you might overlook.

You’re majorly stressed out

Grinding or clenching your teeth can be a sign that you’re under pressure. These are othersigns stress is making you sick. Over time, you can grind down and damage your teeth, causing sensitivity and pain. “You can eventually get to the dentin, under the enamel,” says Dr. Camargo. “Your bite height can change and you can create TMJ problems. There’s also a risk of fracture—you can break teeth.” Another sign of stress? Having a painful canker sore or two. Although the jury is still out when it comes to the exact cause of canker sores, they occur more frequently in people who are stressed, notes Dr. Cram. Although the sores are painful, they’re thankfully benign. Try one of these canker sore home remedies to make them disappear. That said, if you have a white (or red) lesion in your mouth that doesn’t clear up in two weeks, that can be a sign of oral cancer and warrants a doctor’s visit and biopsy right away.

Your bone mineral density is low

Loose teeth, including dentures that have become loose, and receding gums can be signs of low bone mineral density, which can lead to osteoporosis. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to experience tooth loss than those who do not have the disease, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). NIAMS suggests that dental X-rays can be used as a screening tool for osteoporosis, noting that research shows dental X-rays are effective in identifying people with osteoporosis compared to those with normal bone density.

You may have an autoimmune disease

If your mouth feels as dry as a desert, certain medications may be to blame, but one possible cause is the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome, which primarily affects women over 40. With the disease, the body attacks the glands that make saliva and tears, causing dryness in the mouth and eyes and increasing the risk of cavities. Although there’s no cure for Sjogren’s, the symptoms can be managed with treatments that help bring back some moisture.

You’re dealing with an eating disorder

Dentists can spot the signs of anorexia and bulimia in their patients. With anorexia, nutritional deficiencies, including a lack of calcium, iron, and B vitamins, can cause tooth decay, gum disease, canker sores, and dry mouth, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). With bulimia, stomach acid from vomiting can erode tooth enamel, causing sensitivity to hot and cold food and changing the color and shape of the teeth. In some cases, teeth can become weak enough that they actually break. NEDA notes that redness and cuts along the roof of the mouth brought on by purging is a big red flag for dentists since damage to the soft palate is rare in people who are healthy.

You may have celiac disease

According to the National Institutes of Health, dentists are in a unique position to identify celiac disease in patients if they know what to look for. Even though the condition—an autoimmune disease in which gluten damages the small intestine—is associated with gastrointestinal symptoms, celiac disease can also affect the teeth, leading to dental enamel defects. The disease can cause tooth discoloration: namely, white, yellow, or brown spots on the teeth. It can also cause teeth to appear pitted or banded, like a groove going across the teeth. These defects are symmetrical and typically crop up on the incisors and molars. Other oral symptoms of celiac disease include recurring canker sores; a smooth, red tongue (tongues are normally bumpy); and dry mouth.

Article credit: Rachel Grumman Bender 

Choosing Food That Promotes Dental Health Recommended

Michigan State University (12/23, Byrd) stated that “the food and beverages that your children choose play a major role in their dental health.” The Michigan State University Extension recommended selecting food that promotes “good dental health,” such as having cheese for a snack and consuming “fruit and vegetables with a high water content.”

People May Be Using Too Much Toothpaste.

The Greatist (12/23, Cattel) stated that many people are using too much toothpaste, according to a dentist in Manhattan, although “there is no harm if adults use more toothpaste than recommended, says Ana Paula Ferraz-Dougherty, a dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.” According to the article, adults need a “pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste,” while “kids younger than 6 should use even less—about the size of a grain of rice.” For additional information on toothpaste, visit

Meanwhile, (12/23) considered seven ways people are brushing their teeth incorrectly, providing solutions to ensure oral health. For example, the article stated that “the average person brushes their teeth for only 45 seconds,” although “dentists recommend you brush for at least 2 minutes.” For additional tips on brushing teeth, visit