Sink Your Teeth into Natural Oral Care

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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What’s the best way to achieve a healthy smile? Regular use of toothpaste, floss and mouthwash, of course! But, there’s a lot to learn about how natural ingredients support healthy gums and teeth, as well as some alternative ways to achieve long-term oral health.

Toothpaste Ingredients
Let’s take a closer look inside your toothpaste.

Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables, and though it may be new to some, it has been used for over a century (1). Its unique chemical makeup differs from artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, which have been known to negatively affect the body over long periods of use (1). When xylitol mixes with saliva, the sweetener raises pH levels and activates calcium and phosphate salts, which harden the tooth enamel. Reversing damage that has already been inflicted on the teeth is a slow process, but some scientists feel it may be possible with xylitol (2). This natural ingredient also discourages bacterial adhesion to the teeth and gums. Because xylitol is found in so many different forms such as gum, candy, toothpaste and mouthwash, dental care providers normally recommend anywhere from four to 12 grams a day (but no more than 15 grams) to keep bacteria away and preserve a clean mouth (2). Experts believe higher intakes of xylitol diminish its dental benefits.


While tea has a reputation for staining teeth, green tea is believed to support healthy gums. In a green tea study conducted with 940 Japanese men in 2009, all participants experienced an overall decrease in periodontal pathogens in their mouths, which attack gums and teeth (3). Since green tea is known for its antioxidant capacities, it is thought that the main antioxidant, catechin, helps prevent gum inflammation that causes pain or bleeding.

Baking soda has made a comeback as an ingredient in some major-brand toothpastes, but the substance itself could also be used to clean your teeth as an alternative method. Its abrasive qualities are said to aid in polishing teeth. While studies have found that it is mostly inexpensive and neutralizes bad breath agents such as volatile sulfur compounds, it won’t necessarily prevent cavities and, in some cases, it might cause sensitive teeth (4).

Space doesn’t permit for a discussion of all natural agents that support oral care, but readers should know natural toothpastes also may contain silica (to polish and clean), calcium (for strengthening), aloe (for soothing), neem (an antiseptic) and antioxidants like CoQ10, pomegranate and cranberry.

Fluoridated vs. Non-fluoridated: The Facts
While some people would never dream of using a non-fluoridated toothpaste, others wouldn’t touch fluoride with a 10-foot pole.

One of the biggest issues surrounding fluoride is its overuse in young children. Since infants are developing at such a fast pace, many makers of formula, toothpastes and supplements include fluoride to help keep teeth strong. Ironically, this overexposure could lead to dental fluorosis, a condition in which newly formed teeth possess white or dark spots over the enamel (5). Fluoride can also be toxic when ingested in large quantities.

Conversely, using fluoridated toothpaste has shown strong evidence of preventing tooth decay and is recommended for everyday use by the American Dental Association (6). Overall, fluoride in its many forms has been found to prevent tooth decay by 20-40% and has been one of the cheapest ways to preserve oral health.

Both fluoridating and non-fluoridating products are available in natural products stores so you can decide which is better for your needs.

Supplemental Help
Vitamin C is instrumental in forming collagen and dentin, and it is also one of the best ways of preventing gingivitis (7). Aside from the lack of brushing, gums crack and bleed when the body starts to become deficient in this vitamin. While supplements are available, staples like orange juice and pineapples and even exotic fruits like guava can boost vitamin C levels—one half-cup of raw guava fruit alone contains 188 mg (7).

Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant agent that, like green tea, is known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Also known as CoQ10, it helps prevent and sometimes repair receding gum lines by eliminating and neutralizing free radicals in the body as well as the mouth (8). And, a form of CoQ10 called ubiquinol taken in a 150 mg/day dose was found to decrease plaque and gum bleeding after two months (9). In a separate study, dry mouth improved, too. WF

References
1. K. Makinen, A. Jones and J. Peldyak, Xylitol: An Amazing Discovery for Health (Woodland Publishing, Orem, UT, 2007).
2. “Dental Benefits of Xylitol,” www.xylitol.org, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
3. M. Kushiyama et al., “Relationship between Intake of Green Tea and Periodontal Disease,” J. Periodontol. 80 (3), 372–377 (2009).
4. Good-Gums, “Baking Soda for Teeth and Gum Care,” www.good-gums.com/ingredient-baking-soda.cfm, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
5. Fluoride Action Network, “10 Facts about Fluoride,” http://www.fluoridealert.org/fluoride-facts.htm, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
6. Department of Human and Health Services, “Review of Fluoride: Benefits and Risks,” Feb. 1991, http://health.gov/environment/ReviewofFluoride/default.htm, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
7. MedicineNet, “Vitamin C,” www.medicinenet.com/vitamins_and_calcium_supplements/page7.htm#vitaminc, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
8. LifeExtension, “Gingivitis,” www.lef.org/protocols/dental/gingivitis_01.htm, accessed Dec. 15, 2011.
9. “Effect of the Reduced Form of Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiqionol) on Oral Environment in Periodontal Disease,” presented at the 63rd Meeting of the Vitamin Society of Japan, June 4 and 5, 2011, Hiroshima, Japan.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2012