Would you put dirt in your mouth? A natural toothpaste called “The Dirt” seems to think you should. What about clay? It’s the second ingredient in “Earthpaste.” While it certainly won’t make your teeth any cleaner to chew on the dirt from your front garden, brands like these believe they can do a better job than your standard Colgate or Crest.

In this age of the open Internet, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction — and your health is the last area you want to risk misinformation. Here’s the dirt on what these alternative toothpastes have to offer.

Charcoal used in brushing teeth

Charcoal, Cinnamon, and… Wasabi?

Skeptics may be surprised to hear that some wacky-sounding toothpaste alternatives can successfully remove plaque and reduce bacteria in the mouth.

For example, charcoal can raise the pH of your mouth, neutralizing acids that cause tooth decay over time. It’s also abrasive enough to help remove stains. However, if used by itself, it’s abrasive enough to damage your teeth; charcoal works best as an ingredient in toothpaste, not as a toothpaste itself. It’s also not a good idea if you have crowns or veneers — the dark particles won’t stain your teeth, but can stain porcelain if they scratch it.

Bentonite clay is an antibacterial agent that works similarly to charcoal, raising the pH of your mouth and providing the necessary abrasiveness to remove plaque. Unlike charcoal, bentonite clay isn’t abrasive enough to do damage to your enamel, even by itself. Sea salt can also raise the pH of your mouth, making it a popular ingredient in toothpastes.

However, some alternative pastes are just crazy rumors. You may have heard the common claim that brushing with pure baking soda is effective both as a toothpaste and a whitener. Unfortunately, while baking soda can help clear plaque, it does nothing to reduce bacteria in your mouth, and can actually encourage cavities. It’s also possible for baking soda to damage your enamel if you use it frequently.

Cinnamon is known to be anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory, but it is also capable of burning the sensitive tissues of the mouth if used too frequently or in strong concentrations. “Oil pulling” with coconut oil is a popular oral health process, and while it has shown positive effects, it is not recommended as an alternative to dental care.

And as exciting as it may sound, brushing with wasabi might kill bacteria, but it’s not yet proven to be a plaque fighter.

The Fluoride 411

One of the concerns motivating the alternative toothpaste movement is fear over the effects of fluoride, which is a common ingredient in conventional toothpastes. Scan the toothpaste section of your local health food store and you will see box after box labeled “fluoride-free.” But despite decades of anti-fluoride protest and panic (including the belief that water fluoridation was a Communist takeover plot!), the medical community has no doubt that fluoride is provably effective at preventing cavities.

Since fluoride can be toxic when ingested in large amounts, it is recommended that children use fluoride-free toothpaste until they have learned to spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing it. And of course, if you have a fluoride sensitivity or allergy, a fluoride-free toothpaste would be a smart choice. But for the average adult, fluoride in your toothpaste tube poses no threat. Just make sure you spit it out and don’t swallow it.

If you’re concerned about the ingredients in your toothpaste, speak to your dentist about the healthiest options. Call (845) 627-7645 or contact us online to make an appointment and talk about the best way to keep your teeth clean and healthy.