Of all the products to consider natural alternatives for, a toothpaste is arguably the most sensible, because it goes, well...inside your mouth. But as with any item labeled "natural" or "organic," it's important to understand what the word means in this context—and not surprisingly, it's not exactly standard.
What is "natural" or "organic" toothpaste?
"There's no set definition of natural toothpaste," says cosmetic dentist Gregg Lituchy of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York City. "Often, we're referring to toothpastes without artificial sweeteners, coloring, and the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate, which is associated with canker sores in people who are prone." Shannon M. Nanne, a registered dental hygienist based in Ohio, also mentions that many natural formulas don't include triclosan, a pesticide that's sometimes used as an antibacterial agent to fight plaque and gingivitis.
Fluoride, while naturally occurring in water and in plants like tea leaves, is excluded from some toothpastes labeled natural due to concerns about toxicity at supremely high levels. As Lituchy sees it, while opting out of fluoride is a personal choice, it's not one he recommends; Nanne also chooses fluorinated pastes. "There are no meaningful alternative to fluoride. To date, it's the only toothpaste ingredient proven to strengthen enamel and significantly decreases cavity risk," says Lituchy.
What should you look for in a "natural" toothpaste?
"I believe that there are good chemicals and bad chemicals," says Nanne. "Artificial sweeteners like sodium saccharin offer no health benefit and over time may lead to health problems." Alternative sweeteners like sugar alcohols sorbitol and xylitol are rated safe for non-food uses by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit advocacy organization. Xylitol, for instance, inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities. Ahead, nine toothpastes that do a great job, sans any of the bad guys.
Hydrated silica physically scrubs away stained patches while stevia and a non-toxic cleanser help prevent future cavities.
While the slew of new brands joining the natural market is heartening, Tom's of Maine has been at it for the last 50 years. Their bestselling toothpaste is this piquant minty version, which has no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives but does fight cavities, stains and stale breath.
While most professionals agree that fluoride is both safe and unparalleled in its cavity prevention and enamel-building properties, if you did want to avoid the mineral, this charcoal-infused version is an elegant option. Here, hydroxyapatite, another naturally occurring mineral, repairs micro-lesions and rebuilds sensitive tooth structure, while an enzymatic system supports optimal saliva health.
Get you a toothpaste that does it all—or, in that case, doesn't do any of the nasty stuff. This option is vegan and cruelty-free, and has zero artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners. It also doesn't have fluoride, if that's something you're interested in.
In this pleasantly gray paste—some charcoal products are startlingly black—stains are gently neutralized over time as the enzyme CoQ10 promotes mouth health as goji, pomegranate, aloe leaf juice, and magnolia bark neutralize bad breath.
Here's Lituchy's pick: "It's free of sodium lauryl sulfate, and artificial sweeteners but does contain natural mint for flavor, and most importantly, cavity-fighting fluoride," he says.
Flavored with citrus, cinnamon and mint oil, this piquant paste comes in an easily rollable metal tube, and sloughs away plaque with finely ground silica and calcium carbonate. Baking soda works to neutralize plaque-forming acid in this fluoride-free choice.
Nano-hydroxyapatite might just be the most promising natural ingredient in dentistry today. (And studies agree.) It's a mineral that occurs naturally in your teeth, and can work to remineralize weakened structure, brighten, and prevent cavities. Xylitol and sea salt work to foster a balanced oral microbiome alongside a pleasing peppermint/pine flavor.
In this adorable recyclable aluminum tube, a paste that's free of sodium lauryl sulfate and artificial sweetners, but still contains plenty of fluoride and a sturdy mint flavor, and costs not a dime more than your regular ol' drugstore staple.
The only product that's certified natural by the Natural Products Association has a fiery cinnamon taste that makes toothbrushing an honor and a pleasure.