Sure, everyone wants pearly white teeth and minty-fresh breath, but not if it means harming overall health. And as word spreads about potential negative effects of common oral-care ingredients, people are seeking out natural options. The organic oral hygiene market is set to grow steadily into 2024, according to an analysis from Global Market Insights, which points to “a rise in public awareness about health and safety, consumer cognizance concerning hazards of synthetic chemicals and go green consciousness.” The report specifies concern over parabens, petroleum based chemicals, phthalates and aluminum salts as a factor driving consumers to products that are environmentally friendly and nontoxic (1).

What’s more, a wealth of research in recent years has shown that oral health is linked to benefits beyond a pretty smile. The condition of teeth and gums can be tied to underlying health conditions, and as Kami Hoss, DDS, orthodontist and founder of Howard Healthcare Academy in San Diego states, “Sometimes early signs of many illnesses first appear in the mouth” (2).

Here, a look at the tried-and-true natural ingredients, new trends and emerging science on optimizing oral health.

Toothpaste The main concern within the toothpaste aisle centers on fluoride. According to the Institute of Medicine, “no disease, not even tooth decay, is caused by a ‘fluoride deficiency’” (3). In an article by Well+Good, Karla Solis, DDS, of LA Holistic Dentistry, calls out fluoride as the number one ingredient to avoid. “It’s been classified as a neurotoxin that accumulates in our bodies and can manifest itself over time as dental fluorosis—or as far worse health problems,” she told the publication, suggesting instead opting for pastes with wild-crafted herbs (like calendula and green tea) and essential oils; natural clay to draw out toxins and Ayurvedic formula with herbal blends (4).

Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, is also used in many toothpastes (as well as gum, and mouthwash). Its benefits come from its non-fermentability, which essentially means it prevents bacteria in the mouth from turning into harmful acid that causes tooth decay (5). It also reduces streptococcus bacteria in the mouth which can lead to tooth decay (6), as well as hinders growth of the bacteria responsible for gingivitis (5). (Note that while Xylitol is safe for people to use in their daily oral care routine, it is not beneficial for man’s best friend. Xylitol has been proven to be dangerous, and even deadly, for dogs.)

Consumers may also seek out activated charcoal, which has become the trendy dental care ingredient of recent years. As Dr. Steven Lin, aka “The Functional Dentist” and author of The Dental Diet points out, though, activated charcoal is actually an age-old material with various medicinal uses. And while he notes that the American Dental Association (ADA) has not currently approved activated charcoal products for dentistry, he adds that observations suggest activated charcoal is effective in absorbing plaque and other compounds that stain teeth. “Meaning, the chemical properties of activated charcoal make it a natural teeth whitener. It doesn’t neutralize the toxins—it binds to them, resulting in whiter teeth.” That said, Dr. Lin cautions that activated charcoal can be abrasive, and he offers a suggestion that you can to pass on to your customers: “Consider smearing the product on your teeth instead of brushing it on. This allows the product to effectively whiten the teeth without harming your enamel.” And of course, he stresses, everyone should consult with a dental professional first (7).

Mouthwash & More “Many conventional mouthwashes hurt your oral flora and can actually make your breath worse,” asserts Dr. Lin. “Bad breath is a sign that your mouth’s oral microbiome is off balance. And when your oral microbiome is off balance, there’s a good chance your gut microbiome is also off balance because they directly influence one another. There are many causes of bad breath, but a common one begins in your gut, or ‘gut breath’ as I like to call it.” He points to alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and chlorhexidine as ingredients to avoid (8).

As James Powell, DDS, founder of Exceptional Dentistry, a practice in Palmdale, CA, notes on his website, “Even though the amount of alcohol in mouthwash is small, it can cause harm to the soft tissues in your mouth. It is also important to note that alcohol is a drying agent. Because of this, using mouthwash with alcohol can cause the amount of saliva being produced to be reduced or even eliminated—aka dry mouth” (9). Saliva has many beneficial purposes within the mouth including protection from gum disease, tooth decay, oral infections and bad bacteria. It also neutralizes acids in the mouth which reduces the harm acidity can cause for tooth enamel (10). For these reasons, in-the-know shoppers are seeking out mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol. Consider making sure alcohol-free mouthwash products stand out with extra labeling.

Dr. Lin also suggests homemade mouthwash, which can be made by mixing ½ tbsp. of baking soda with water and a pinch of sea salt. “These ingredients,” he says, “will help with remineralization in addition to freshening your breath (8).”

Along with—or sometimes instead of—mouthwash, more people are opting to keep oral hygiene in check with oil pulling. Research in The Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine outlines a variety of benefits from oil pulling, including removing toxins and chemicals from the body and mouth, detoxification, preventing systemic disease, increasing metabolism, freshening breath, and preventing plaque build up (11).

This technique can be done in addition to a regular oral hygiene routine in the morning on an empty stomach. Oils that can be used for oil pulling include: olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil. According to Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., CNS, a nutritional pioneer on detox, weight loss and wellness, on her website, oil pulling can be done by taking about 2 tablespoons of oil, swishing it around and pulling it through the teeth for about 20 minutes before spitting it out (in a garbage can, so as not to clog drains) and rinsing with water (12).

Dental Floss Recent studies show that the coating on dental floss can lead to higher levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFA) in the body (13). That’s a real concern, as PFA is a chemical that has been linked to kidney disease, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, low birth weight, cancers, and immune system issues (14). As this new science raises consumer awareness, chemical-free floss will likely be in even greater demand. Shelf talkers that call out the fact the floss on your shelves is free of harmful chemicals will help shoppers sidestep this sneaky health sapper.

Tongue Scraping Another resource to combat bad breath and keep mouth healthy: tongue scraping. This is generally done after brushing and flossing, by using a tongue scraper that gently removes bacteria from the tongue’s surface. Dental hygienist Tenika Patterson, RDH, explains that the “tongue can also harbor bacteria, but tongue scraping can do a better job at removing that plaque and bacteria off of the tongues surface” (15). Indeed, studies have shown that it can reduce the amount of bacteria on the tongues coating, as well as improve breath (16). WF

Common Oral Care Can Cause Canker Sores

Canker sores are a common oral health problem that are often caused by stress, food sensitivities, vitamin deficiencies (especially folic acid, iron and B-12) and hormonal changes, according to Dr. Steven Lin, author of The Dental Diet (17). More surprisingly, he notes, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a chemical additive in many toothpastes and mouthwash, has been linked to canker sores and should be avoided by anyone who is prone to the painful blisters. He outlines 11 natural home remedies on his website——which is a terrific resource that you can recommend to customers battling sores.

Customers can also turn to natural products featuring ingredients used to treat discomfort, heal and prevent canker sores, including zinc and carnosine (18). Another popular ingredient used to treat canker sores is lysine. According to Medical News Today, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins and lysine may speed healing when taken orally at the onset of lesions (19).
  1. Global Market Insights Press Release. “Organic Oral Care Market Business Growth, Trends and Forecast 2024: Colgate-Palmolive, Church & Dwight, P&G (Procter & Gamble), Church & Dwight, Unilever, Pigeon, Henkel.” Posted 2/25/19. Accessed 3/26/19.
  2. Brittany Anas, “10 Things Your Dentist Can Tell About Your Health Just By Looking In Your Mouth,” Posted 12/11/18. Accessed 3/25/19.
  3. Paul Connet, “50 reasons to Oppose Fluoridation,” Posted 09/12. Accessed 3/25/19.
  4. ERIN MAGNER, “6 Ways to Clean Up Your Dental Care Routine” POsted 10/16. Accessed 3/30/19.
  5. Jamie Eske, “What are the health benefits of Xylitol?,” Posted 1/11/19. Accessed 4/22/19.
  6. Chandrashekar Janakiram, C. V. Deepan Kumar, Joe Joseph, “Xylitol in preventing dental caries: A systematic review and meta-analyses,” Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine. Volume 8(Issue 1). 2017.
  7. Dr. Steven Lin, “Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening: Advice from a Dentist,” Accessed 5/1/19. 
  8. Dr. Steven Lin, “Does Mouthwash Kill Good Bacteria?” Accessed 4/25/19.
  9. Exceptional Dentistry, “Mouthwash with Alcohol vs. without: Wish is Really Better?,” Posted 5/12/17. Accessed 4/1/19.
  10. Delta Dental, “The Importance of Saliva,” Accessed 4/1/19.
  11. Vagish Kumar L. Shanbhag, “Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review,” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Volume 7, Issue 1. 1-4 (2016).
  12. Ann Louise Gittleman, “OIL PULLING: THE ANCIENT RITUAL THAT TRANSFORMS YOUR HEALTH,” Published 3/28/14. Accessed 3/28/19.
  13. Silent Spring Institute Press Release, “Dental flossing and other behaviors linked with higher levels of PFAS in the body.” Posted 01/08/19. Accessed 3/26/19.
  14. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Basic Information on PFA’S,” Accessed 3/27/19.
  15. Miki Matsui et al., “Effects of tongue cleaning on bacterial flora in tongue coating and dental plaque: a crossover study,” BMC Oral Health 2014. Volume 14(Issue 4). 1-8(2014).
  16.  Cleveland Clinic, “Does Tongue Scraping Actually Work, and Should I Be Doing It?,” Posted 12/18/18. Accessed 3/28/19.
  17. Dr. Steven Lin, “11 Natural Home Remedies for Canker Sores” Accessed 5/1/19.
  18. Ora Swift Press Release, “OraSwift.” Accessed 4/22/19.
  19. Markus MacGill, “Everything you need to know about canker sores,” Posted 6/9/17. Accessed 4/22/19.