Why is there so much controversy on ingredients like fluoride, xylitol, and glycerin (not to mention all the ingredients we can barely pronounce) in commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes?
How are we as consumers supposed to determine if an ingredient in an oral hygiene product is safe to use from a whole body perspective?
Every week we are blessed to receive emails from people all around the world asking us what our thoughts are on various ingredients in oral hygiene products. While it’s fun for us to research all the crazy stuff used in the market, in this article, we would like to share with you the process we go through to research any particular oral hygiene ingredient. We hope this adds to your toolkit to make wiser, more informed decisions.
In order to really benefit from this process, let’s first debunk what we consider to be a fundamental error thought that can undermine each of our ability to think through whether an ingredient in an oral hygiene product is safe or not. This error thought, if unquestioned, can lead us into thinking that an ingredient is safe when in fact it may not be.
Debunking the #1 Oral Health MYTH…
We consider the statement ‘what goes in the mouth stays in the mouth’ to be the #1 cultural myth concerning oral hygiene products.
While it seems like common sense that we can spit out something that’s in our mouth and it won’t go into the rest of the system, it’s not true.
It’s a myth.
It’s been proven many times that whatever we put in our mouths is absorbed into the bloodstream through the cheek and gum tissue, in many cases even faster than if we swallowed the product!
Anyone familiar with homeopathic medicine knows that we can place a tablet under the tongue and the body will absorb the medicine almost immediately.
Sure, it’s true that we don’t absorb as much of whatever ingredient we’re talking about through the oral tissues than if we swallowed it. But the fact remains that whatever we put in our mouths is going to enter the whole body via being absorbed into the bloodstream.
With the awareness of the truth about this myth in place, let’s take a look at a few questions you can ask to help determine if a product ingredient is safe as well as some examples of this process in action…
Questions to ask to determine if an ingredient in an oral hygiene product is safe.
When we research a given ingredient, we step through the following thought process to sift through the marketing clutter…
1. What’s the impact of this ingredient in the mouth? What do both sides say about the risks and benefits?
2. What’s the impact of this ingredient ‘downstream’? How does this ingredient interact with the rest of the body?
3. What is this ingredient trying to accomplish? Is there another ingredient that could be used that can accomplish a similar benefit without the potential risks?
Before we step through some examples of applying this process, let’s introduce a principle commonly applied in science and medicine we find very helpful…
The Precautionary Principle
The precautionary principle is a term used in many fields of study to illustrate the importance to apply ‘informed prudence’ toward a certain, normally new, process or technology. One definition states, “the principle that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted.”
Application of the precautionary principle have been most notable with the lack of caution applied to the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the earth biome.
Unless there is consensus among the scientific community on a given subject, the precautionary principle suggests that it’s best to wait and study further rather than jump in and regret later.
We like to pass all new ingredients through our ‘precautionary principle filter’ to make sure that we aren’t agreeing to become ‘guinea pigs’ for new ingredients that may cause harm.
It’s not a perfect filter. We have to commonly ‘rank’ the relative importance of some research as well as read between the lines whether some research was funded by organizations that have an interest in slanting the data. But keeping the precautionary principle in mind helps us lean toward the ‘wait and see’ regarding questionable ingredients.
So with these pieces in place, let’s take a look at a few common ingredients in oral hygiene products…
(Why not start with perhaps the most inflammatory ingredient?)
What’s the impact of fluoride in the mouth? What do both sides say regarding the risks and benefits?
Fluoride is stated to make tooth enamel harder therefore more resistant to decay. Proponents have many clinical trials that show this. Those who argue against fluoride point out that the tooth structure created by introducing fluoride isn’t the same structure as natural tooth.
Those against fluoride bring to light that, when speaking about teeth, harder may not always be better and point toward a potential correlation between fluoride use and an increased risk of fracturing the tooth.
What’s the impact of fluoride ‘downstream’?
Fluoride is known to disrupt every enzyme in the human body. There is no known use of fluoride in mammalian species.
What’s fluoride trying to accomplish? Are there other ingredients that can help without the potential risks?
Fluoride is used as an anti-cavity agent. Thankfully, there are many other ingredients that function as an anti-cavity agent that don’t have the recognized risks of fluoride.
Given this, looking through the ‘precautionary principle filter’, we choose to not use fluoride in the mouth and why you will never find fluoride in any OraWellness products. Simply put, the risks outweigh the benefits from our point of view to avoid exposure to fluoride.
If you’d like a deeper look at why we don’t appreciate fluoride, here’s an article we wrote many years ago titled ‘Fluoride is Good for You‘ that our friend, Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness published. Warning, it’s written in a satirical format. 🙂
Now let’s examine what the culture considers a ‘healthy’ alternative to fluoride.
What’s the impact of xylitol in the mouth? What do both sides say about the impact in the mouth?
A staggering number of studies show that xylitol inhibits decay and supports surface remineralization. Some studies focus on how xylitol helps balance the oral flora by deactivating strep mutans the main ‘bad bug’ implicated with tooth decay. Others show how xylitol is drawn into areas of decay and encourages remineralization of underlying tooth tissue. ‘In the mouth’ the research strongly points to benefits.
What’s the impact of xylitol ‘downstream’?
Here is where we find research on both sides of the discussion. On the risk side, some research suggests problems with the production of xylitol being dangerous. Others point at studies that show that consuming large quantities of xylitol can cause gas and bloating in the GI tract.
But what’s really going on here in the gut micro biome? Some experts suggest that xylitol is a prebiotic, a food for healthy bacteria in the gut, and that the GI stress goes away after regular use. Perhaps most notable, studies show that regular use of xylitol causes a change in the gut bacteria leaning away from disease causing microbes and toward a healthier balance of gut bacteria.
What’s xylitol trying to accomplish? Do other ingredients exist that offer the same benefits without the potential risks?
Xylitol offers similar benefits as fluoride. Xylitol helps reduce risk of new decay by supporting a healthier balance of oral flora while helping to remineralize already existing decayed tissue.
Applying the ‘precautionary principle filter’ we find that the risks are nonexistent for use in the mouth and given the quantities absorbed, marginal for any potential risks ‘downstream’. However, we are still hesitant on using xylitol as a sugar replacement and consuming quantity of it vs using it strictly in the mouth.
If you’d like to read a more thorough review of the risks and benefits of xylitol, here’s a link to our article titled, “Is xylitol safe to brush with?”.
We hope this simple process how we analyze oral hygiene product ingredients from a holistic view in mind helps you along your path.
Given this breakdown of the process, are there any ingredients you want investigated? Please share your research of these ingredients Which ingredients do you consider safe? Which are questionable or even downright nasty to you?
Please share your thoughts and any analysis you do in the comments below so we can all continue to learn from one another.
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