Dear Earth Talk: Are there toothpastes on the market that don't contain chemicals or artificial sweeteners? -- Jeffrey Moss, Westport, Conn.
Most conventional toothpastes use saccharin as a sweetener. Although it has not been proven that saccharin causes cancer in humans, many studies have linked it to cancer in laboratory animals, and some experts, including Dr. Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois Medical Center and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, recommend that consumers avoid it.
Fluoride has also come under fire in recent years because of its suspected ties to bone cancer, hip fractures and fluorosis, white spots and blotching on teeth caused by excessive ingestion of fluoride. Although the American Dental Association (ADA) strongly endorses fluoride-containing products, claiming they are safe and effective for cavity prevention, some experts argue that if fluoride can damage tooth-forming cells, as in fluorisis, then other harm to the body may also occur.
Triclosan is the most often used antibacterial agent in toothpaste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers triclosan a pesticide and a chlorophenol, part of a class of chemicals thought to cause cancer in humans. Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, a foaming agent, and sorbitol are two other oral hygiene ingredients whose safety has been questioned. And most so-called "whitening" toothpastes use sodium or potassium hydroxides, also known as lye, considered a poison by the Food and Drug Administration.
For many years the alternatives to mass-market toothpastes were plain baking soda or bad-tasting pastes that most adults disliked and kids refused to use. There are many new pastes on the market now that, if somewhat less sweet-tasting than those with saccharin, taste great -- and the dental establishment is warming up to them.
The ADA has awarded its seal to Tom's of Maine, which makes a large variety of natural-ingredient toothpastes. And the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that Herbal Toothpaste and Gum Therapy from The Natural Dentist outperformed Colgate's Total in reducing gingivitis and teeth stains. The Natural Dentist makes pastes and gels in a variety of flavors that contain sodium laureth sulfate, but don't use artificial sweeteners, preservatives or dyes. Peelu Toothpaste, which comes in Spearmint, Cinnamon and Peppermint flavors, uses peelu, a vegetable fiber, as an abrasive and glycerine as a cleanser, rather than a synthetic detergent. Weleda makes toothpaste free of saccharin and sodium lauryl sulfate. Its Pink Toothpaste with Myrrh contains nine essential oils for gum health, and its Children's Tooth Gel is made especially for young teeth.
For consumers who wish to avoid fluoride, Tom's of Maine makes fluoride-free natural toothpaste for adults and children. Tom's also makes a whitening toothpaste that uses silica; Jason Natural Products makes one that uses both silica and bamboo powder.
For more information: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 202-332-9110, www.cspinet.org; American Dental Association, 312-440-2500, www.ada.org; Tom's of Maine, 800-367-8667, www.tomsofmaine.com; The Natural Dentist, 201-944-0123, www.thenaturaldentist.com; Peelu Toothpaste, 888-543-9294, www.bytheplanet.com; Weleda, 800-265-2615, www.usa.weleda.com; Jason Natural Products, 877-JASON-01, www.jason-natural.com.
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