Let’s be honest, perhaps nothing can throw off a great look more than bad teeth. To be clear, I don’t mean crooked teeth, which can be unique and endearing. I mean yellow, stained, or spotted teeth or evidence of other problems associated with poor oral hygiene such as cavities, tooth erosion and decay, gum diseases, and bad breath.
Thankfully, I’ve had no personal experience with the majority of these problems, although I have struggled to obtain a very white smile. My teeth have always been more yellow and tarnished-looking than I have ever liked (coffee, black tea, anyone?), and I have tried so many different tricks to little or no effect.
Unlike skin or hair care, oral care is a little more of a controversial topic as far as whether or not certain ingredients in store-bought products are actually safe and which DIY techniques actually work. There are many different theories and much debate even among the professionals. However, this is an important topic to explore and discuss because, more than just “throwing off a great look,” tooth decay and other oral health problems are often a huge, red, flashing indication of serious health issues.
Although this is far from a comprehensive list, the most suspect ingredients in store-bought oral care products (toothpaste and mouthwash) are Triclosan, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Propylene Glycol, Diethanolamine (DEA), micro-beads, artificial sweeteners, and fluoride, which can be endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic, to say the least (other effects include reducing good, healthy oral bacteria and coating the enamel in a way that disrupts the remineralization function of saliva). Fluoride is, perhaps, the most disputed ingredient. Although, a natural mineral with many possible benefits, it has also been proven to pose some risks—dental fluorosis, evidenced by spotted teeth, being one.
For my part, I would rather replace chemicals (and even natural minerals) that may or may not lead to enamel erosion and tooth decay in the long run at best with ingredients that I can trust are safe, healthy, and just as effective, if not more so.
First, however, there’s an issue that begs addressing: Many of the DIY products and techniques people have popularly turned to as alternatives to the store-bought, chemically-based ones are neither effective nor safe.
For example, the using activated charcoal as a whitener craze? Well, the abrasiveness of charcoal isn’t known, which means it could be enamel-eroding. Don’t take risks when it comes to your teeth. Teeth are the only part of the ectoderm that does not replenish or heal itself—unlike hair, skin, or nails. Once it’s gone; it’s gone. So, do your research before trying a trendy product or technique that may very well deteriorate your teeth.
Similarly, the new, popular use of tumeric to whiten teeth is also suspect. This technique is not scientifically proven and goes against the general rule of thumb understood by oral health professionals, which is that anything that can stain a white t-shirt can stain your teeth.
Some also say to use hydrogen peroxide as mouthwash, but whether or not doing so is safe for your oral health is debatable. Hydrogen peroxide does have antiseptic, whitening, and healing properties; however, there is some speculation that it could have damaging effects on dental pulp.
So, what ingredients and techniques can be regarded as safe and healthy?
Well, the more acidic the pH levels in the mouth, the greater the risk of decay. You want an oral pH level that encourages the probiotic (healthy) bacterial populations in your mouth to flourish. Baking soda supports a more alkaline oral pH level, thereby creating a healthier environment for your mouth. Baking soda, being a salt, is also a natural antimicrobial. So, it supports good bacteria and kills bad bacteria.
Some have said that baking soda is too “abrasive” for tooth enamel, and abrasivity is certainly a concern when it comes to what materials you brush with. However, this is not a concern with baking soda.
An abrasion rating is given to different toothpastes and is required for FDA approval (though not typically included in marketing). Abrasivity measurements are given in what’s known as an RDA value, which stands for “relative dentin abrasivity.” Now—pardon me while I get really technical—the Mohs scale is what’s used to compare the hardness of minerals or materials or structures by seeing which can visibly scratch others, and a Mohs unit is what’s used to rate the hardness of that structure (like teeth). The Mohs hardness of a diamond is 10, while the hardness of tooth enamel is 5, and dentin is 2.5. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) has a Mohs hardness value of 2.5 and an RDA value of 7, which means it is no harder than the softer inside of your tooth and is safe to use.
This also means that any toothpaste with a higher RDA value than 7 has the potential to cut dentin. The Colgate 2-in-1 Tartar Control/Whitening RDA value is 190-200 (200 is the maximum value for FDA approval, anything above being considered harmful to teeth)! When observing the RDA values of different toothpastes, it appears that those used for whitening are much more abrasive.
So? If having clean, white teeth is foundational to establishing a great look, but commercial toothpastes (especially those for whitening purposes) are harmful and unsafe, what is the alternative? After much research into oral care, I decided to make my own natural, healthy, safe products, use certain techniques and establish a routine that promotes oral health, and also “eat for good teeth” (nutrition plays a huge part in oral health).
(Disclaimer: The following products and techniques are for basic up-keep and surface stains; for older, deeper stains, consult your dentist, and, of course, visit your dentist regularly for that deep clean.)
For my healthy, homemade toothpaste I use baking soda, which, as discussed above, is safe for teeth, causes good bacteria to flourish while killing bad bacteria, and also cleans and whitens; coconut oil and bentonite clay which bind to and draw out impurities, detox, and whiten (bentonite clay is also high in calcium, magnesium, and silica which help remineralize teeth); and liquid castile soap to clean. The soap is completely optional; some don’t like the taste (or aftertaste). I also add essential oil of peppermint.
Be aware, this toothpaste does not taste good, and it has an interesting texture that some might find unpleasant. You can add more liquid coconut oil for a less gritty, gummy texture and a sweetener such as stevia or honey for a better taste if you like. However, I’ve gotten used the recipe as is and have found that the less I tamper with it the better it works.
Some put calcium magnesium or trace minerals in their toothpastes; however, this is not necessary. It’s your saliva’s job to remineralize your teeth. The best thing you can do to mineralize your teeth, then, is to “eat for good teeth” (I’ll talk about nutrition below) so that your saliva contains all the different minerals it needs to do its job (also our bodies cannot process industrialized minerals as well as the minerals we ingest in food).
You will need:
- 3-4 tbsp. baking soda
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil (I use liquid coconut oil)
- 1 tbsp. liquid castile soap (optional)
- 2 tsp. bentonite clay
- 5-10 drops essential oil – peppermint
(Makes about 4oz.)
Stir until thoroughly blended together. Pour into container.
Directions for use:
Treat as regular toothpaste (of course, don’t ingest). The best method for brushing is to use small, quick, gentle strokes (more like a vibration) near the gum line instead of mindlessly scrubbing away. Brush a couple of teeth at a time, thoroughly cleaning before moving on to the next. Also, be aware that saliva breaks down the “grit” of baking soda (and toothpaste) within the first 20 seconds of brushing. Because of this, it is best to begin brushing your teeth in a different area each time (for example, don’t always start in on your left molars first thing… switch it up!).
You will need:
- 1 and 1/2 cups filtered water
- 1 tsp. pink Himalayan sea salt
- 10-15 drops essential oil – peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, or clove
Mix together until salt dissolves. Pour into container.
Directions for use:
Treat as regular mouthwash (do not ingest). Shake well before using.
My routine when it comes to oral care is to brush my teeth (and tongue!) twice daily using the products and techniques described above, in addition to visiting the dentist regularly. In the morning, I typically brush my teeth after breakfast except if I’ve just eaten a fairly acidic meal, in which case I’ll either wait a couple of hours to brush my teeth or brush them before breakfast if I know in advance that I’ll be eating more acidic foods.
Foods with strong acid—like limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, coffee, red wine, vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, soda, candy, dried fruit, etc.—are the number one cause of enamel erosion and tooth decay. It is best to not brush your teeth directly after an acidic meal because acid softens your enamel and brushing soft enamel can erode it. In order to avoid enamel erosion as the result of acidity, you can also use a straw when drinking acidic drinks.
Though I included a recipe for mouthwash above, I typically do not use mouthwash as a part of my routine. However, I do oil pull fairly often. In case you’re unfamiliar with oil pulling, it is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that involves swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 or so minutes before spitting and rinsing (I oil pull while showering because my showers run about 20 minutes). According to theory, most microorganisms inhabiting the mouth consist of a single cell, the skin of these cells is a lipid (fatty) membrane, and when these cells come into contact with oil—a “fat”—they naturally adhere to each other. Therefore, by swishing the oil around in your mouth, the bacteria are washed out and held in the solution, which turns milky white as it fills with bacteria, viruses, and other organisms. Then, you spit, ridding your mouth of the bad bacteria. It is worth noting that this practice has not been scientifically proven; however, it can also in no way be harmful (unlike the suspect practices of brushing with activated charcoal or swishing hydrogen peroxide), so I think it’s worth trying, and it has worked well for me. If nothing else, the lauric acid in coconut oil is a natural antibacterial.
Other than this, the best thing you can do for your teeth is to establish healthy eating habits so that your saliva has all the minerals it needs to remineralize your teeth and strengthen your enamel and so that you do not decay your teeth with unhealthy, acidic foods. Avoid processed foods and refined sugar, first and foremost, and eat plenty of omega-3s, whole foods, grass-fed meats, and fermented vegetables. Drinking green tea is also great for oral health (and your overall health) because it is a powerful antioxidant, protects against radiation, boosts mineralization, and reduces inflammation and risk of periodontal disease, thereby reducing the bad bacteria in your mouth. I also take an oral probiotic and Green Pasture’s fermented cod liver oil and butter oil supplement, which is a great source of vitamins A, D, and K2, ideal for healing or maintaining healthy teeth.
And that’s it! Like I said before, teeth do not replenish or heal themselves—there are no second chances—so take care of the ones you have! Doing so will not only be better for your health, but will also be better for your look!
Follow my blog for more natural, healthy self-care products and routines (and more!). In my next post in the “Spring Clean You Look” series, I will be writing about nail care—among other things, I will reveal how to grow strong, healthy nails using safe, natural products and techniques.
(This post is the fourth in the “Spring Clean Your Look” series. You can find the first post of that series here.)
https://www.orawellness.com/ – correct toothbrush and technique