Is Your Homemade, Zero Waste Toothpaste Ruining Your Teeth: How Effective is Homemade Toothpaste?

Reusable Nation - homemade toothpaste

Homemade toothpaste from natural ingredients is the easiest and sometimes only way to get zero waste toothpaste, but are you ruining your dental health by using DIY toothpaste? We take an objective look at the ingredients often used for and left out of natural toothpaste so you can decide for yourself if it’s the right choice for you and your teeth.

The easiest and sometimes only way to get zero waste toothpaste is to DIY it and make it yourself at home. The worry is, when it comes to toothpaste made at home, there is no way of knowing how safe or effective it is for the tooth surface and gingival tissues.

A lot of the natural commercial toothpastes available that come in tins or jars use the same recipes and ingredients, but often, these recipes and ingredients are not approved by dental associations and are not backed by scientific studies.

However, not many studies have been done specifically on natural and homemade toothpaste and there are studies that point to the possible effectiveness of some natural ingredients and combinations of ingredients.

Dentists are also worried about the ingredients these recipes for homemade toothpaste omit - namely fluoride.

We look into the ingredients often used to make homemade toothpaste and how and why they may or may not work, and the science or lack thereof behind them so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to use them or not.

We also delve into the controversial topic of fluoride and whether your toothpaste should or shouldn’t contain fluoride.

WHAT DENTISTS AND SCIENTIFIC STUDIES SAY IN A NUTSHELL

For Homemade

A study that compared homemade toothpaste and commercial toothpaste’s plaque removal ability in children in Udaipur City, Rajasthan suggests that “the use of the homemade toothpaste containing coconut could be a useful aid to obtaining a significant reduction for plaque index compared to commercial toothpaste”.

A study that compared the efficacy of oil infused toothpaste with oil pulling did find that “the efficiency of oil pulling is achieved through the use of oil infused toothpaste”.

It concluded that “the regular use of oil infused toothpaste clinically shows similar or to say far superior results when compared to that of oil pulling like reduced gingival inflammation, plaque index and salivary pH. Thus it can be concisely said that the choice of oil infused toothpaste along with an efficient mechanical cleansing modality even in the absence of other supplementary oral hygiene techniques can be related to decreased incidence of plaque accumulation thereby leading to reduced incidence of gingivitis”.

It does add that “further investigations like bacterial counts before and after the use of toothpaste to prove the standards of this oil infused toothpaste is required”.

For this study, the teeth were brushed with a toothpaste containing calcium carbonate, bentonite clay, baking soda, distilled water, peppermint oil, and coconut oil using the modified bass technique of brushing.

A natural product making dentist blogger, Tracy of Oh, The Things We’ll Make!, states that “relying on fluoride toothpaste to keep cavities away isn't your best bet”. According to her, “there are more effective ways to keep cavities away”.

Against Homemade

Many (I would say most) dentists only approve of fluoridated toothpastes. The Australian Dental Association recommends a certain level of fluoride in regular adult toothpaste and the American Dental Association (ADA) will only place its seal of approval on toothpastes with fluoride in them.

Dental associations only approve products that have human clinical studies that back up claims and prove the product is safe and effective and few natural, herbal toothpastes have undergone rigorous testing and there is a limited amount of information on their safety and efficacy in scientific literature.

An in vitro study that was conducted to evaluate the antimicrobial potential of 14 natural herbal dentifrices found that “only one herbal dentifrice showed consistent antimicrobial activity against all four microorganisms”. It concluded that due to “the variation in antimicrobial inhibition among the herbal dentifrices”, “more research is needed to validate their effectiveness claims”.

Although there are studies that do show that homemade toothpastes can work, these studies also state that more research is necessary.

THINGS THAT PEOPLE BRUSH THEIR TEETH WITH: WHICH NATURAL TOOTHPASTE INGREDIENTS ACTUALLY WORK

Baking Soda

Baking soda can be found in commercial toothpastes as well as homemade ones and the majority of scientific studies have been on commercial toothpastes that contain baking soda as well as fluoride, not on baking soda on its own are as part of a homemade toothpaste. So, although there are studies backing baking soda, they do not cover the use of baking soda alone, but point to the possible benefits of using baking soda as an ingredient.

One of these studies, which compared commercial dentifrices containing 20% to 65% baking soda with commercial dentifrices that do not contain baking soda, found that those that contained baking soda had “enhanced plaque removal effectiveness of tooth brushing to a significantly greater extent than the non-baking soda dentifrice products”.

The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) compiled a number of reports based on research of the effects of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a dentifrice ingredient and found that:

  • “The low abrasivity of dentifrices containing baking soda makes them especially suited for safe daily use in oral hygiene regimens.

  • Microbiological studies have shown that baking soda products have significant bactericidal activity against oral pathogens, which explains benefits demonstrated in clinical studies on plaque biofilm and gingivitis reduction.

  • Baking soda dentifrices favour patient compliance because they have stain-reducing and whitening properties, a feature which motivates patients to brush as instructed by their oral care practitioner.

  • Neutralisation of plaque acids by baking soda supports caries reduction as well as facilitation of remineralisation of incipient carious lesions.”

Again this was baking soda in a commercial toothpaste containing fluoride.

Baking soda can potentially help plaque removal and help fight cavities by neutralising the acids in the mouth as it is alkaline.

However, in an article for SELF, director of New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, Emanuel Layliev, says, “Although baking soda does help to remove plaque, it doesn't kill any bacteria, and that can actually increase cavity formation in your teeth.” It is also noted in the article that its abrasiveness, which helps clean your teeth, “can also damage the enamel, so it’s best to use baking soda and baking soda-heavy products only occasionally”.

So using baking soda alone to clean your teeth isn’t recommended.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties and a study has found that “the use of the homemade toothpaste containing coconut could be a useful aid to obtaining a significant reduction for plaque index compared to commercial toothpaste”.

However, more research on this is needed. Whether it will reduce cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth is still in question, according to an oral surgeon that was interviewed by SELF.

Ask the Dentist agrees that there is limited evidence that coconut oil helps reduce cavity-causing bacteria, but states that “it can only help, so long as it’s not used as a replacement for flossing, brushing, and tongue scraping” as it “can help boost the microbiome in your gut and naturally prevent candida in the mouth”.

Oil pulling’s ability to reduce oral bacterial count and counteract halitosis has been proven. Because of the thin film that forms over the surfaces of the teeth, substances can’t adhere to them. But incorporating oil into toothpaste is not the same as oil pulling, which involves keeping the oil in your mouth and in contact with your teeth for at least three to five minutes.

However, a study that compared the efficacy of oil infused toothpaste with oil pulling did find that “the efficiency of oil pulling is achieved through the use of oil infused toothpaste”.

It concluded that “the regular use of oil infused toothpaste clinically shows similar or to say far superior results when compared to that of oil pulling like reduced gingival inflammation, plaque index and salivary pH. Thus it can be concisely said that the choice of oil infused toothpaste along with an efficient mechanical cleansing modality even in the absence of other supplementary oral hygiene techniques can be related to decreased incidence of plaque accumulation thereby leading to reduced incidence of gingivitis”.

The study notes that coconut oil “drives away the notorious stimulant for gingival inflammation”, “the high saponification value of coconut oil plays a major role in reduction of plaque”, and “the alkali in the saliva reacts with the coconut oil and creates an environment where plaque adhesion is made nearly impossible”.

It does add that “further investigations like bacterial counts before and after the use of toothpaste to prove the standards of this oil infused toothpaste is required”.

For this study, the teeth were brushed with a toothpaste containing calcium carbonate, bentonite clay, baking soda, distilled water, peppermint oil, and coconut oil using the modified bass technique of brushing.

A disadvantage of using coconut oil in homemade toothpaste is that it will be solid when it's cold but melt when it’s hot. Also, too much coconut oil should not be washed down the drain. Coconut oil can leave a residue in your pipes over time and can end up clogging them.

Olive Oil Soap

Some health bloggers have had success brushing their teeth with pure oil soap like Sabun. They believe that it works because it is alkaline, which is the perfect condition for a healthy mouth.

I couldn’t find any scientific studies on brushing your teeth with soap and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the outcome of brushing your teeth with soap apart from these bloggers’ experiences.

There is a professor of chemistry, Dr. Gerard Judd, who is pretty outspoken on his views of dental hygiene and very against the use of fluoride, who advocates the use of soap as toothpaste. He says that “brushing with soap destroys bacteria and viruses” and “not only cleans teeth but also removes hard plaque stuck to the bottom of enamel”.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a way of adding sweetness without feeding the bacteria in your mouth. While mouth bacteria feeds off sugar, it is unable to metabolise xylitol, so its growth is reduced. In addition, it may reduce cavities as it helps to raise the pH of saliva in the mouth, as “since no acid is formed, the pH of saliva does not fall”.

Some modern studies are calling into doubt just how much of a help it really is. A paper published in the Cochrane Library concludes that, “there is little high quality evidence that it is beneficial in the fight against tooth decay”.

Tracy notes that “it is still a sweetener that is safe for your teeth and is great for homemade toothpastes”.

Don’t add too much Xylitol though. Ask the Dentist warns that “since it’s a sweetener, too much can reprogram your taste buds to crave too much sweetness”.

Charcoal

According to an article by a clinical pharmacist in The Pharmaceutical Journal. “to date, there have been no scientific studies published proving the effectiveness of charcoal toothpastes in tooth whitening, oral hygiene and any claimed preventative and halitosis-controlling effects”.

The article also notes that “the charcoal included in charcoal toothpastes has not been found to have negative abrasive effects”, but as toothpastes containing charcoal are black in colour, “brushing off the colour tends to prolong brushing, or the use of excessive brushing force” and this “may lead to the abrasion of teeth”.

A comprehensive literature review on charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices in the Journal of the American Dental Association concludes that there is “insufficient clinical and laboratory data to substantiate the safety and efficacy claims of charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices”. It states that “larger-scale and well-designed studies are needed to establish conclusive evidence”.

Salt

Salt can be added to toothpaste to help reduce the formation of bacteria and promote the production of saliva, which keeps cavities away by buffering the pH of the mouth.

SELF’s article on alternative toothpastes states that “sea salts can temporarily raise the pH in your mouth, which makes it more difficult for bacteria to thrive”.

Brushing only with salt, however, is not recommended. Salt toothpastes contain a number of other ingredients to create a paste, making it less abrasive on teeth. Salt on its own is abrasive and may damage your teeth’s enamel.

Bentonite Clay

According to Tracy, the high pH of bentonite clay helps to combat cavities and it binds to toxins and impurities to help remove them, however she admits that there are no studies supporting or opposing this and that whether or not this is true and helpful in the context of a homemade toothpaste is questionable.

Oral surgeon, William Graves tells SELF that “the benefit of bentonite clay is that it is abrasive enough to remove the plaque but not so much so that it will do damage to your enamel” and Ask the Dentist also promotes it as “a natural polisher rich in minerals that isn’t too abrasive”, noting that “it’s also alkaline, so it helps reduce acidity in the mouth”.

In the study mentioned above that found that using a homemade toothpaste with oil is as beneficial as oil pulling, they note that bentonite clay is a mild abrasive that “plays a pivotal role in the gentle removal of plaque from the tooth surface” and that “apart from the role of plaque removal, it also renders a helping hand in maintaining the oral pH and lowering the bacterial count due to its buffering and anti-bacterial activity respectively”.

Wasabi

Not actually wasabi, but something in wasabi - please don’t brush your teeth with wasabi!

An oral surgeon tells SELF that isothiocyanates, which give wasabi its hot taste and can be found in some tooth powders, “have been shown to inhibit the growth of cavity forming bacteria”.

Test tube studies have shown that these chemical compounds inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes dental caries. According to this research, they interfere with the sugar-dependent adherence of the cells to the teeth.

One study indicates that “chewing gum containing a low level of allyl isothiocyanate can effectively reduce oral malodour”.

Cacao

A possible replacement for fluoride is theobromine, a component of cacao that may remineralise teeth.

The British Dental Journal notes that it may even be better than fluoride at remineralising and hardening tooth enamel according to a new study. The journal notes that “by increasing the size of apatite crystals that form and strengthen enamel, theobromine makes teeth less vulnerable to bacterial acid erosion that can eventually lead to cavities”.

One study that compared fluoride and theobromine found that theobromine is a better alternative than fluoride. It concluded that “theobromine in an apatite-forming medium can enhance the remineralisation potential of the medium; therefore, theobromine could be a viable alternative to fluoride additives in commercial dentifrices”.

According to the study, “the role of theobromine to prevent dental caries in the clinical study has yet to be investigated and definitely proven. However, we have every reason to believe that theobromine is 21st century’s most important ingredient in future dentifrices in our society”.

Another study found that “theobromine may seem to have positive effect on enamel remineralisation”.

Ask the Dentist notes that whether the use of cacao as an abrasive to break up biofilm is safe depends on the grain size of the cacao nibs.

A note about using cacao is that it may stain your sink - so clean it well after spitting!

MUST MY TOOTHPASTE CONTAIN FLUORIDE?

Toothpaste itself doesn't remove plaque (a study has shown that using toothpaste when brushing didn’t provide any extra plaque removing abilities, concluding that “there is moderate certainty that toothbrushing with a dentifrice does not provide an added effect for the mechanical removal of dental plaque”).

It is the additives that are meant to help prevent cavities, with the most well known one being fluoride. Fluoride is added to toothpaste to remineralise teeth that have been demineralised by the bacterial plaque. It makes remineralisation quicker and enamel less soluble and therefore helps prevent cavities.

There are toxicity concerns when it comes to fluoride, which can potentially cause digestive issues and kidney problems, affect bone formation, and suppress the thyroid; however, it needs to be a very high dose for this to happen. And, due to these concerns, only very low doses are found in commercial toothpaste.

Overuse of fluoride is dangerous for children and the fluoride intake of children under six should be monitored as “overuse of fluoride during this period can result in enamel fluorosis, a developmental condition of tooth enamel that may appear as white lines or spots on the teeth”. Children under age six should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Children under the age of two should only use a fluoride-free toothpaste as they may not spit it out and could swallow too much fluoride.

Many people are against fluoride in toothpaste due to these toxicity concerns and “there are more effective ways to keep cavities away and other less toxic substances that can help with remineralisation”, according to natural product making dentist blogger, Tracy of Oh, The Things We’ll Make!.

The American Dental Hygienists' Association, however, considers fluoride toothpaste essential for optimal oral health and the Australian Dental Association recommends a certain level of fluoride in regular adult toothpaste.

Choice notes that “most experts say that fluoride is the one vital ingredient toothpaste should contain”. Professor Mike Morgan, Head of Population Oral Health and Periodontics at Melbourne University, told Choice that he “advises against fluoride-free toothpastes and believes there are just two things to consider in your purchasing decision: look for toothpaste that has fluoride in it; after that the decision should really just be driven by price”.

“But not all individuals have the same need to use fluoridated toothpastes,” according to Dr Paul Vankevich, an assistant professor of general dentistry. He notes: “If a person's teeth are naturally resistant, or in other words, their teeth already have high fluoride content, then that person may not need to use fluoridated toothpaste. Individuals who experience early stages of decay, or who have cavities forming should be sure to have daily exposure to topical fluoride.”

Dr Carlos González-Cabezas, an associate professor in dentistry, states, “Fluoride is one of the most important, if not the most important reason for the decline of dental caries in most parts of the world. Before fluoride, having dental caries was almost universal: more than 95 percent of people were affected by them.” He agrees that not everybody needs it, noting that “some people will have so little risk (e.g., they are getting enough fluoride from other sources, their diet is very low in fermentable carbohydrates, their dental plaque composition is not cariogenic enough) that theoretically they do not need it”.

Fluoride is also present in some communities’ water supplies at a safe level as an effective and cheap way of making sure people obtain the fluoride necessary for optimal prevention of tooth decay. It has been proven that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay in both adults and children, but some now dispute this saying that it has made no difference as people in these communities still suffer from tooth decay.

Even if it is in the water, a study found that “a maximum reduction in tooth decay is achieved when fluoride is available both topically and systemically”, in other words both via toothpaste and in water or as a supplement.

Personally, my dentist has warned me against using any toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride because I grew up in a country that didn’t have fluoride in the water so I definitely need the extra fluoride according to him.

In fact, my dentist said, “I don’t care what toothpaste you use as long as it has fluoride in it.”

I agree with the dental professors above and think that whether you should use a toothpaste that contains fluoride or not depends on the strength of your teeth and their natural resistance.

You can buy Denttab tooth tabs free of plastic packaging and with or without fluoride!

IMPORTANCE OF PROPER BRUSHING TECHNIQUE AND FLOSSING

The technique used to brush your teeth is more important than the toothpaste you use, according to natural product making dentist blogger, Tracy of Oh, The Things We’ll Make!. She says a thorough brushing session at night before you go to sleep, making sure that each tooth surface is brushed, that you are brushing for at least 2 minutes and that you are flossing, is vital.

She adds that it is best to use a toothbrush with soft bristles and to “brush with small, circular motions following the contour of your gums”.

SELF warns, when using tooth powders, don’t dip your toothbrush in the powder; rather use a spoon to place the powder on your toothbrush as dipping it in can cause bacteria to grow in your pot of powder.

Your diet also plays a big role in teeth health. The less sugar and processed foods you eat, the better it is for your teeth.

SO, SHOULD YOU USE A HOMEMADE OR COMMERCIAL TOOTHPASTE?

Research in a lot of the ingredients used to make homemade toothpaste and natural toothpaste is lacking. This doesn’t mean they don’t work. They might as shown by some studies. They also might not as the evidence isn’t overwhelming and their effectiveness has not been proven over the long term.

In the end, whether you should use a homemade toothpaste or not comes down to factors like:

  • your dental genetics and history and the condition of your teeth,

  • the specific ingredients in the homemade toothpaste, and

  • how well you brush and floss and look after your teeth in other ways.

We recommend talking to your dentist about it, taking the potential risks into account, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the ingredients, and finding a recipe with the right ingredients that you can trust if you decide to go the natural route.

The study mentioned above that found that oil infused natural toothpaste is as effective as oil pulling notes that “each ingredient acts individually and in combination with the other constituents of the toothpaste to initiate and provide the desired effect”. The study recommends using a mixture of calcium carbonate, bentonite clay, baking soda, peppermint oil, and coconut oil.

You’ll find two recipes for natural homemade toothpaste with similar ingredients on the Oh, The Things We’ll Make! website here.

You can also buy tooth powder in glass jars like Dirty Hippie Tooth Powder (AU), Urthly Organics Toothpaste Powder (AU), and My Magic Mud Turmeric & Cacao Polishing Tooth Powder (US/CAN) or paste in a glass jar like Hoda’s Herbals Sparkle Tooth Paste (US/CAN). These generally don’t contain fluoride.

Also make sure you brush properly and floss as this makes a huge difference to dental health and visit a dentist regularly so you can catch any problems that your toothpaste might be causing early on.

If you’re not a candidate for DIY toothpaste or toothpaste without fluoride like me - my dentist strongly recommends against me using it because of my poor dental health and history - I wouldn’t risk it.

On my dentist’s advice, I’m using a commercial plastic-free toothpaste alternative with fluoride - Denttabs tooth tablets! We now sell these in Australia - both with and without fluoride - and you can get some here.

In the end, it is a personal decision and the decision should be made based on your personal dental health.

Do you use homemade, natural toothpaste or are you sticking with commercially produced, fluoride containing ones?

REFERENCES

https://www.self.com/story/alternative-toothpastes-do-they-work

https://askthedentist.com/diy-toothpaste/

https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/correspondence/charcoal-toothpastes-what-we-know-so-far/20203167.article

https://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2017/03/black-toothpaste-and-white-teeth-when-opposites-collide.html

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30412-9/fulltext

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jcpe.12615

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)62458-2/fulltext

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19278079

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fbb4/a9fe8bd96dfb7f01642df9810af7ced208ad.pdf

https://www.rjpbcs.com/pdf/2016_7(6)/[1].pdf

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fbb4/a9fe8bd96dfb7f01642df9810af7ced208ad.pdf

https://thethingswellmake.com/natural-homemade-toothpaste-recipes-tips-dentist/

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)63324-9/fulltext

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291950673_Theobromine_A_Safe_and_Effective_Alternative_for_Fluoride_in_Dentifrices

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258357431_Effect_of_Theobromine_on_Enamel_Surface_Hardness_An_in-vitro_Study

https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2013.499#ref1

https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/348589

http://www.mintandchili.com/why-i-dont-use-toothpaste

https://mrsgoodness.nz/we-brush-our-teeth-with-soap/

https://www.docgiff.com/article/soap-to-brush-your-teeth-are-you-kidding/

https://www.livescience.com/36273-fluoride-toothpaste-recommendations.html

https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/dentists-and-dental-care/dental-products/articles/toothpaste-whats-the-difference

https://xylitol.org/faqs-questions-about-xylitol/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150325210320.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4232036/

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30412-9/fulltext

https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/basics/selecting-dental-products/what-is-salt-toothpaste-1216

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261324922_Chewing_gum_containing_allyl_isothiocyanate_from_mustard_seed_extract_is_effective_in_reducing_volatile_sulfur_compounds_responsible_for_oral_malodor

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/wasabi-toothpaste/

*this posts contains affiliate links. If you buy something from a featured brand we may earn a few cents. To learn more, see our disclosure policy.