Natural products have been become a bit of a sensation over the last few years. Walmart, for example, has introduced organic vegetables and dairy alongside many other natural products in response to consumer demand. Natural toothpastes have been available for years, but have recently gained prominence as their conventional counterparts have come under new scrutiny. Previously, we have discussed conventional toothpaste, but the landscape has changed since then. Triclosan, for example, a powerful antibacterial agent found in conventional soap and toothpaste, has since been found to alter hormone regulation in laboratory animals and promote antibiotic resistance.
The mouth contains bacteria that organize in colonies called oral biofilm. Antibacterial ingredients in toothpaste are important for removing and destroying oral biofilm. It is important to have an antimicrobial agent in toothpaste. One such natural agent is chitosan, which recent studies have proved to be nontoxic and quite effective. Brushing with chitosan may sound off putting when you discover it is harvested from the shells of crustaceans like shrimp and the cuticles of insects. One of the only toothpastes that contains chitosan is a German brand called Chitodent, which is difficult to obtain in the US.
A toothpaste with plant based, herbal ingredients called Parodontax, uses natural mineral salts as a detergent agent. It also contains healing herbs such as: Echinacea, chamomile, sage and myrhh. Many conventional toothpastes use sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as the detergent. However, SLS causes mouth ulcers and tissue sloughing. Parodontax is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and is available on the internet.
Editor Jenna Bergen of Prevention magazine recently spoke about all natural toothpaste. “It’s a really big marketing term right now because companies are realizing consumers are becoming savvier in trying to limit their exposure to unnecessary chemicals.” Said Bergen. “So if that matters to you, you can feel confident that when you pick up a natural toothpaste it won’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, and fragrances,” she explains.
There is emerging evidence to suggest that some natural ingredients such as cranberry extract and xylitol can fight cavities. However, natural toothpaste with fluoride is highly recommended. Any well-designed fluoride toothpaste will make enamel more acid resistant. The enamel-strengthening claims on the label are “a marketing gimmick,” says Dr. Featherstone, was a consultant for several toothpaste makers. It is important to choose toothpaste with a taste you like, as you will use it more.
Regardless of the toothpaste you use, it is important not to brush your teeth immediately after drinking acids as that is when enamel is most vulnerable to wear from brushing. It’s a good idea to take a few sips of water after drinking or eating acids, scientists add, and sugar-free gum can help by stimulating saliva production.
The idea that relatively inexpensive, naturally derived products can be used to prevent disease or improve health and quality of life is intriguing to many people. Alternative medicine including Herbal or botanical supplements have been used for thousands of years and are still popular additions to many a modern, health-conscious person’s daily routine. But don’t be misled… Your herbal remedy may be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Natural doesn’t mean harmless or effective, and most herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means it’s up to consumers to do their homework and seek the advice of their doctors … do you know what you are taking?
More often than not when it is time to update the health history at the dental office people omit mentioning the supplements and other over-the-counter products that they consume. However, it is important to realize that it doesn’t matter whether the active chemical substances contained in a product occur naturally in a plant or whether they are synthesized in a pharmaceutical laboratory; the effect may be the same. As a matter of fact, many commonly prescribed medications include ingredients that derived from the very same plants and natural ingredients that are available for purchase over the counter as a supplement. Familiar examples include:
- St. John’s Wort contains ingredients chemically similar to many commonly prescribed SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa.
- Warfarin (Coumadin) is an anticoagulant or “blood thinner” that contains coumarin, an ingredient found naturally in many plants including sweet clover, licorice, parsley and chamomile.
All drugs (natural or pharmaceutical) that are ingested have what is known as a primary effect (the reason one takes the drug), and a secondary effect (side effect) which can sometimes be harmful. Furthermore, adverse interactions between herbal remedies and prescription medications are common, as are sometimes serious side effects, but we may choose to take these substances anyway when the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Vitamins and herbal supplements can cause a variety of effects including bad breath, cardiac and respiratory complications, excessive bleeding, negating or increasing the effects of antibiotics and other types of medications, and more. A few supplements have specific oral effects including these examples:
- Gingko Biloba and several other botanical supplements can cause throat swelling, bleeding of the gums.
- Kava Kava: can cause muscle spasm of the lips and tongue, may increase the effects of anesthesia during surgery.
- St. Johns Wort: can cause dry mouth
Botanical supplements frequently do exactly what they are advertised to do, and can be very beneficial; but just as you would not take someone else’s prescription medication, it is important to thoroughly investigate any vitamin or herbal supplement with your health providers before deciding to include it in your health regimen.
Next time you are asked about your medical history at the medical or dental office, remember to list everything you take, including any herbal supplements. The information could be very important when deciding what other medications are prescribed for you, and it may even be a clue to resolving unexplained symptoms!