3 Toothpaste Ingredients You Should Know About: Fluoride, SLS & Xylitol
To fluoride or not to fluoride, that is the question. And how about SLS and xylitol—are those ingredients that deserve a place in an oral care routine? These are three toothpaste ingredients to look out for on ingredient lists—but for different reasons. We’ll make our way through all three of them to help you brush in a way that’s best for your mouth and our planet.
Fluoride in toothpaste
Let’s start by asking, what is fluoride? The mineral is naturally occurring and can be found in some foods, as well as freshwater sources like rivers and lakes. It is proven to be effective in preventing tooth decay and cavity development in three main ways.
- Fluoride helps prevent acids from weakening your tooth enamel. Since enamel is mostly made up of minerals and acid is particularly adept at dissolving minerals, fluoride acts as an extra layer of protection for your enamel.
- Further helping to prevent tooth decay, fluoride revitalizes already weakened enamel. The mineral attracts calcium and phosphate ions from your saliva to your teeth, brings them together, and helps bond them to your teeth to make enamel less soluble in acid.
- By inhibiting bacterial activity in dental plaque, fluoride neutralizes the biggest threat plaque poses: the production of acid. This is another way fluoride fights tooth decay.
Too much of a good thing?
If fluoride is that good at preventing tooth decay and cavity development, are there any fluoride-free toothpaste benefits? The short answer: yes. Though toothpaste has traditionally had fluoride, choosing a no fluoride toothpaste might be a better option. But why?
Because fluoride is effective at fighting cavities, it is added to virtually all community water supplies. It’s also added to drinks and food, mouthwash, and the majority of professional dental products like foams, gels, and pastes. You get all the fluoride you need from these sources, so there is no need to have it in your toothpaste, too.
In fluoride’s case, too much of a good thing can be bad—very bad. Ingesting more than 20 mg of fluoride per day, whether from a supplement or a naturally occurring source, can be unsafe.
Too much fluoride can lead to serious health concerns and complications such as:
- Skeletal Fluorosis: A painful bone disease in which the bones become hard and less elastic, increasing the risk of fracture and impaired joint mobility.
- Hyperparathyroidism: Too much fluoride can damage the parathyroid gland, leading to an uncontrolled secretion of parathyroid hormones called hyperparathyroidism. This condition leads to too much calcium in the blood and not enough calcium in the bones.
Some scientific research has also linked exposure to high-fluoride concentrations to decreased birth rates and childhood cognitive disorders.
Why use fluoride free toothpaste?
Why switch to fluoride free toothpaste? You should use a non-fluoride toothpaste simply because you don’t need any more fluoride. Fortunately, there are some great fluoride alternatives out there that are better for you and the planet, like nano-Hydroxyapatite (nHAp).
Terra & Co.’s non fluoride toothpaste is an effective option that’s completely non-toxic and made from natural ingredients. Our no fluoride toothpaste formulas feature either activated charcoal to lift away stains and promote a healthy mouth pH balance, or nHAp to strengthen enamel and remineralize micro-cavities. Say “goodbye” to unnecessary fluoride and hello to natural, sustainable, and safe ingredients.
There’s another ingredient you won’t see on Terra & Co. ingredient lists: SLS.
What is SLS?
Sodium lauryl sulfate, or "SLS," is a chemical made by neutralizing lauryl alcohol with sodium carbonate. Sometimes called SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate), SLS is primarily used as an emulsifying or thickening agent.
SLS also causes products to foam and bubble when activated with water, helping to remove dirt and plaque in the process. In addition to personal hygiene products, the ingredient is commonly added to household cleaning products like laundry detergent and floor cleaners.
What is SLS in toothpaste?
But what is SLS in toothpaste? Used for the same reasons you would find it in shampoo or a cleaning product, SLS gives toothpaste the foamy property many of us have grown accustomed to. Because it reduces surface tension (read: acts as a surfactant), SLS helps to remove food and other debris from the teeth. It also helps other toothpaste active ingredients make contact with the surface of your teeth.
Why is SLS bad?
Though not necessarily "bad" as a general rule, SLS isn't the best ingredient for our planet. Known to be toxic to aquatic life, SLS presents some risk of harm to the environment. Worse, SLS is most dangerous when it travels directly down the drain into waterways—which is common considering that it’s used in many personal care products like toothpaste, shampoo, and soap.
SLS is also a known irritant that may cause skin discomfort in people who are sensitive to it. The compound isn't harmful or irritating to most people when it's used appropriately and in the right amounts. As such, SLS is generally safe when it comes to products like soap or shampoo that are washed away after use or cleaning products that don't come into regular contact with skin.
Toothpaste, however, presents some additional issues. The lining of the mouth is especially delicate, sensitive, and porous. Overexposure to SLS may cause oral tissues to become inflamed or irritated. Since people often swallow small amounts of toothpaste while brushing, SLS may be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, too.
Am I sensitive to SLS?
Though SLS is regarded as a safe ingredient for personal care and household products, some have complained of the following sensitivities:
- Oral mucosa inflammation
- Canker Sores
- Reduction in Fluoride Uptake
- Tooth Sensitivity
It is important to note the lack of conclusive evidence that links these side effects directly to SLS. Generally well-tolerated, people can and do use SLS products without any adverse side effects. Alternatives, however, are available.
Does toothpaste need SLS?
SLS toothpaste does have certain benefits that consumers have come to associate with more traditional toothpaste, including effective plaque removal, foaming action, and good dental hygiene. However, it is possible to get all of these benefits from SLS-free products. There are plenty of naturally derived ingredients that are equally effective such as coconut oil, baking soda, peppermint oil, and activated carbon.
If you’ve found yourself asking, “what ingredient in toothpaste causes canker sores?” a SLS-free toothpaste may be for you. There’s no reason daily brushing should result in irritation, inflammation, canker sores, or tooth sensitivity. With a toothpaste without sodium lauryl sulfate, it doesn’t have to.
Instead, you can treat your mouth to the cleaning, bacteria-fighting powers of xylitol.
Xylitol: A Sweeter Way to Improve Your Dental Hygiene
When you consume foods containing ordinary sugar (sucrose), the bacteria on your teeth multiply and produce acids that eat away at the enamel. Over time, these “acid attacks” can lead to tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems.
Enter: xylitol. This low-calorie natural sweetener is derived from the fibrous parts of fruits, vegetables, trees, and other plants. Unlike sugar, xylitol does not break down in your mouth. By maintaining a neutral pH, it actually helps fight harmful bacteria and “acid attacks” to contribute to a healthier oral environment.
Xylitol dental health benefits
Xylitol is a popular ingredient in many products, including sugar-free gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Is xylitol an anti-inflammatory? Yep, it offers that benefit, too. Research suggests that xylitol has unique antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities by inhibiting the growth of bacteria.
Because harmful, cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth cannot digest xylitol, xylitol-based products can effectively lower your risk of developing cavities. In a 2017 study, researchers found that xylitol helps reduce the amount of Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth, which minimizes the amount of plaque and subsequently prevents tooth decay.
Research also shows that xylitol can help repair damage to tooth enamel. Many people consume sugar so often that the mouth’s own defensive tools are not enough to protect against demineralization. To combat the loss of enamel, xylitol helps produce more alkaline saliva, promoting higher pH levels. In this environment, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start moving toward vulnerable parts of the enamel, contributing to stronger, healthier teeth.
How does xylitol work?
Harmful bacteria prefer living in a low-pH environment, where they can produce acid that demineralizes tooth enamel. Thanks to its ability to maintain a neutral pH level in the mouth, xylitol helps prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to your teeth, thus protecting against tooth decay. Essentially, xylitol helps reduce the harmful bacteria in your mouth by creating an alkaline environment conducive to good dental health.
Intentional Ingredients in Terra & Co.’s Natural, Safe, & Sustainable Oral Care Products
You can now consider yourself more of an expert on toothpaste ingredients! A similar exploration of toothpaste active ingredients like fluoride, SLS, and xylitol happened in Terra & Co.’s early days—back when we realized all of the chemicals people come into contact with on a daily basis. We set out to create danger-free toothpaste and now have a range of oral care products that are safe and supportive for you, your mouth, and our planet.
Say goodbye to unnecessary fluoride and hello to natural, sustainable, and safe Terra & Co. toothpaste.
Adela Recinos —