The Best and Worst Toothpaste Ingredients [Plus 2 DIY Recipes]
It’s funny how we can buy organic foods and shop for non-toxic sunscreen, but then…
It’s funny how we can buy organic foods and shop for non-toxic sunscreen, but then think nothing of whipping out a blue, sparkly toothpaste for our kids to put in their mouths. But even if you make a DIY toothpaste, it doesn’t mean you can’t do damage to your teeth.
I’ve seen plenty of DIY toothpaste recipes sent to me by patients and readers that are harmful to enamel or even the microbiome.
Here’s everything you need to know about making your own DIY toothpaste, as well as how to choose the ingredients that will have the most benefit to your dental health.
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Why Make DIY Toothpaste?
Many mainstream brands of toothpaste contain harmful or even toxic ingredients such as:
- Triclosan, a pesticide and hormone disruptor.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which causes canker sores for many people.
- Artificial colorings, which are linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children. Toothpaste does not need to be blue!
- Fluoride, which can be toxic if swallowed and doesn’t even work in toothpaste.
- Titanium dioxide, which is added to make a toothpaste white. Most of the data shows it’s safe and is not absorbed by the skin, but I have yet to find a study done to measure absorption by oral tissues. The EWG has a good list of safety concerns around titanium dioxide, but the take-home message: it’s just there to make toothpaste white, not improve your health. So why bother with it?
- Highly abrasive ingredients, which damage enamel, making teeth sensitive and more prone to gum recession and cavities. Toothpaste should be only a little bit abrasive—this graininess aids the brushing motion to remove the biofilm of the tooth.
Glycerin is an ingredient I’m asked about often. It isn’t toxic, but ideally has no place in the mouth as it’s a soap that strips your body’s natural oral mucosa and leaves a film.
This film could coat the teeth, messing with the structure of the biofilm which could alter the microbiome in the mouth. Sadly, there are almost zero brands of toothpaste without glycerin—even my favorites!
Glycerin is much less concerning to me than the others on this list because its effect on remineralization is neutral or slightly negative. If you can avoid it with this DIY toothpaste, all the better!
The Best Ingredients to Use in DIY Toothpaste
- Coconut oil, which can help boost the microbiome in your gut (remember, the gut begins in the mouth!) and naturally prevent candida in the mouth. There is limited evidence that coconut oil might help reduce cavity-causing bacteria—either way, it can only help, so long as it’s not used as a replacement for flossing, brushing, and tongue scraping.
- Trace minerals drops, especially if you drink reverse osmosis water, which removes bad stuff from the water but also removes the good stuff too. I use Liqumins Trace Mineral Drops, which were recommended to me by integrative physician Elson Haas.
- Crushed cacao nibs. Believe it or not, the ideal DIY toothpaste would be a chocolate toothpaste, since compounds in cacao beans promote remineralization better than fluoride (and of course, much more safely). Depending on the grain size of the cacao nibs, it could be a safe abrasive to break up the biofilm — just like ground walnut shells are used to polish jewelry!
- Bentonite clay, which is a natural polisher rich in minerals that isn’t too abrasive. It’s also alkaline, so it helps reduce acidity in the mouth. Don’t be afraid of putting “dirt” in your mouth—we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we need to sterilize our mouths with mouthwashes that remove “99% of germs,” but vibrant dental health is actually about achieving a balanced ecosystem of bacteria in your mouth, which protects us from illness and promotes tooth remineralization. Clay is actually used to clean and polish exotic cars without damaging the finish.
- Xylitol for its abilities to reduce cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Just don’t add too much since it’s a sweetener — too much can reprogram your taste buds to crave too much sweetness.
- Baking soda, for its alkalinity. Our teeth and mouths are constantly under attack by acids thanks to the foods we eat. Neutralizing these acids with vegetables and water is essential to maintaining proper pH in the mouth to encourage the right bacteria as well as protect enamel from decay. Baking soda has a pH of 9 to 11 (alkaline), so it helps to neutralize acids while not being too abrasive to teeth.
Leave it Out: Ingredients to Avoid
- Anything acidic: I recommend grabbing pH strips from Amazon to test the acidity of any homemade toothpaste. Anything you make and use should ideally have a pH of 7 (neutral) or higher. Tooth enamel is built to resist acids, yes, but teeth are usually under constant acid attack–often in the form of constant snacking, the wrong foods, or even the right foods. Sipping on kombucha doesn’t give teeth a break from acid, preventing remineralization and making your teeth prone to decay.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Yes, this is the same ingredient used in whitening products and it does work — just not in the form of toothpaste. In order for hydrogen peroxide to whiten teeth, it needs to be held up against the tooth for an extended period of time–ideally with a custom-made tray, but also possible using whitening strips. You can’t just brush hydrogen peroxide on for a few minutes–it’s not long enough to have an effect. Hydrogen peroxide should be held up against only tooth enamel–ideally, it never comes into contact with gums, tongue, and soft tissues of the mouth, where it creates free radicals, which age us.
- Essential oils. This one may be a surprise! Since essential oils have antibacterial properties, many of them ideally should not be in the mouth. We want to nourish and feed the delicate balance of bacteria in our mouths, not kill it off! Doing so can set the stage for poor oral health, bad breath, and other imbalances. Bacteria are important. There are exceptions to this rule, such as anise essential oil.
Can I just use baking soda?
A: Baking soda is completely safe to use as a DIY toothpaste. I like it because it’s non-toxic and increases alkalinity in the mouth by neutralizing acids, all while having a very low abrasion score.
Do I need to use toothpaste at all? How about using just water?
A: Using no toothpaste at all is perfectly fine. I dry brush without toothpaste all the time. The point of toothpaste is to add a little graininess to help the brushing motion of your toothbrush break up the biofilm. A polish, like toothpaste, helps you do this better than dry brushing, but if you’re traveling or away from the sink, don’t let a lack of toothpaste stop you from dry brushing!
Two DIY Toothpaste Recipes to Try Today
Now that you know which ingredients you should include when making your own DIY toothpaste at home (and which ingredients you should avoid), I want to leave you with a two of my favorite recipes.
DIY Probiotic Toothpaste
This recipe is made with cacao nibs, so it’s perfect for anyone with an affinity for chocolate. Cacao are the raw, beanlike seeds from which chocolate (as well as cocoa and cocoa butter) are made. And, as previously mentioned, cacao nibs contain compounds that promote the natural healing of cavities, in addition to providing a decadent, chocolate flavor. The addition of prebiotics and probiotics help to rebalance the oral microbiome, ensuring that new cavities can’t develop.
Here’s how to make it:
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 5–7 days for a family of 4 people (used twice a day) 1x
- In a small saucepan, heat coconut oil over low heat until melted, about 1 – 2 minutes.
- Add bentonite clay, baking soda, xylitol, prebiotic, probiotic, cacao, ginger and cinnamon to a food processor or high-speed blender and blend for 10-15 seconds until all powders are evenly combined, tapping sides and top of blender so powder will fall to the bottom.
- Wait a couple of minutes before opening to allow powders to settle, then pour one tablespoon of coconut oil into the blender. Blend for 10-15 seconds; mixture will be crumbly. Take the small end of a wooden spoon (a chopstick or small spatula will also work) and run it along the inside edge of the blender, making sure to combine all the powder with the oil.
- Add the vitamin E and remaining coconut oil, and blend another 10 – 15 seconds. A this point, the mixture will be runny. Again, run the wooden spoon end along the edge of the blender to make sure all the powder is incorporated. Blend again if necessary to create a smooth and creamy texture.
- With the blender running, slowly add the water and blend for at least 30 seconds, or until it is thoroughly mixed.
- Transfer to a glass container with a plastic lid or a nontoxic refillable squeeze tube.
Storage Tips & How to Use
Dip a clean spoon into the toothpaste and apply to your toothbrush. Store half at room temperature and use toothpaste within 7-10 days. Store the rest in the refrigerator for later use (it’s good for 4 weeks). Alternatively, fill a refillable squeeze tube with your toothpaste and squeeze about a quarter teaspoon onto your toothbrush twice daily for best oral hygiene. Store in your refrigerator for extended freshness.
If you are interested in healing gum disease using a food as medicine approach, here’s a powered by neem leaf variation of the probiotic toothpaste.
DIY Kids’ Toothpaste
It’s important for adults to avoid store-bought, sparkly blue toothpastes, but it’s even more critical for children. The dental care products that are marketed to children are often designed for entertainment—not optimal dental care. With that in mind, I think it’s especially important to make your own kids’ toothpaste whenever possible.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 5–7 days for families with 2 kids 1x
Storage Tips & How to Use
Store in a glass jar or refillable squeeze tube. Keep out only what you’ll use within 5-7 days and store the rest in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
For kids who have a hard time changing routines, add a small amount of the DIY toothpaste to their brush along with the toothpaste they are used to. Gradually increase the amount of the DIY toothpaste while decreasing the amount of the commercial paste.
Consider discarding the used toothpaste (i.e., what’s left in the mouth after brushing) in the trash to avoid clogging sink pipes, as the coconut oil can leave a residue over time.
Don’t let toothpaste be an afterthought. The toothpaste you use can have a tremendous effect on not just your teeth, but your overall health as well.
Mark Burhenne DDS
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