If you've felt like your pharmacy's oral care aisle has seemingly exploded with "natural" toothpaste options over the past few years, you're not imagining things. As the global toothpaste market is expected to grow to $18 billion by 2025, natural and organic options are a major rising trend in the industry, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. It's only natural—no pun intended—that your interest might be piqued by these trending options.
But what does "natural" actually mean in this context? As with natural skincare, it's really up to interpretation. There are no precise regulations that determine whether toothpaste is adequately "natural" or not—oftentimes, it's simply marketing. However, there are a few reasons why a brand may tout their product as "natural," and one of the most common (and controversial) factors for toothpaste is whether or not it contains fluoride.
Many dentists advise only using toothpaste that contains fluoride, as the mineral has proven cavity-fighting benefits. But some consumers have become wary of it. "Fluoride can cause brain damage when consumed in high concentrations, but it is also known to prevent dental caries, or decay, and help remineralization of enamel," says Los Angeles-based cosmetic dentist Mansour Zakhor, DDS. "It is important not to swallow fluoride in toothpaste or fluoride treatment, but it should also be noted that the concentration of fluoride in most toothpaste is nowhere near what it takes to cause this kind of harm."
The American Dental Association recommends the use of fluoride toothpaste for everyone, including children. And by the way, as of 2018 in the United States, 73% of the population has access to running water that contains fluoride, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a result of public health initiatives that began in the 20th century—so chances are, you consume fluoride each day and benefit from its enamel-strengthening properties regardless of your brushing habits.
The ADA, however, does note that young children who consume an excessive amount of fluoride (from any source) may experience dental fluorosis, or the appearance of white spots on the teeth, which do not have any negative effects on dental health. That's in part why the ADA recommends using just a smear of toothpaste no larger than a grain of rice for children 3 and younger, and no larger than a pea for those ages 3 to 6.
Ben ElChami, DDS, chief dental officer of New York City's Dntl Bar, also says that fluoride is a natural mineral and that ingesting it through drinking water does not offer the same benefits as brushing your teeth with it. However, he understands that not everyone may want the ingredient in their toothpaste. "Having an allergy or a medical condition that may indicate avoiding the use of fluoride would be a reason not to use toothpaste with fluoride and your physician should be consulted," he says.
Fluoride aside, there are other reasons why you may consider a "natural" toothpaste: if you have sensitive gums, if you're prone to canker sores, if you simply want to cut out as many artificial ingredients as possible in your hygiene routine. Henry Hackney, DDS, a Chicago-area dentist, member of the American Dental Association, and content director of Authority Dental, advises: "If you want to switch to natural toothpaste, avoid ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), preservatives, and artificial flavors or sweeteners (especially saccharin). Instead, look for aloe vera and coconut oil. Activated charcoal gets mixed opinions—I consider it too abrasive for everyday use."
Since the experts know best when it comes to your dental health, we tapped a few dentists to share their top recommendations for natural toothpastes.
But before you throw out your still-full tube of toothpaste, know that "non-natural" options are still perfectly healthy and safe to use. If you're still interested in making the switch to something with simpler, fewer ingredients, these are your best options.
Tom’s of Maine has been a mainstay in the oral care aisle for decades now, and for good reason: Many dentists over the years have given it their stamp of approval. “Naturally derived ingredients like glycerin, peppermint oil, and zinc citrate combine in this plaque-fighting toothpaste from Tom’s,” says New York City-based cosmetic dentist Lana Rozenberg, DDS. “It whitens your teeth by removing surface stains while simultaneously cleaning the teeth and gums.”
While it doesn’t contain fluoride, it does have xylitol, which can provide cavity-fighting benefits. It is worth noting that this option does contain SLS, which may not make it the best choice for those with especially sensitive teeth and gums. However, it will have the “foamy” feeling typical of most toothpastes, which some people may prefer.
Jenny Gandhi, DDS, owner of Pearl Dentistry in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that Hello’s naturally whitening toothpaste, which contains fluoride, is “a favorite among dentists.” If you’re picky about the texture or feeling of your toothpaste, this could be an ideal option for you: Although it doesn’t contain SLS, it still has a foamy consistency.
And, of course, the natural whitening benefits of its calcium mineral blend are a major draw, too. Additional ingredients like coconut oil and tea tree oil help to gently cleanse the mouth—so fresh breath is pretty much guaranteed.
“This toothpaste is about as organic, nontoxic and safe as it gets,” says California-based dentist Joel Gould, DDS, of Dr Bronner’s simple, fluoride-free toothpaste, which instead contains baking soda, coconut oil, and organic aloe juice. “Coconut oil is highly antimicrobial and all-natural.”
Rozenberg also gives this largely organic option a thumbs-up, noting that it feels different than traditional toothpaste since it doesn’t contain synthetic foaming agents like SLS, but it still “works to leave your mouth, teeth, and gums fresh and clean.”
California-based dentist Kevin Kremer, DDS, recommends this toothpaste because of its impressive natural ingredients. Although it doesn’t contain fluoride, “both neem and xylitol are naturally occurring substances and the research has supported their benefit to healthy gums and reducing tooth decay.”
Neem, a common ingredient in Indian Ayurvedic practices, has indeed been shown to reduce plaque and help prevent tooth decay when it’s incorporated into toothpaste, and mouthwashes that include the ingredient also can also improve gingival, or gum, problems. Xylitol is a type of sugar alcohol that can help prevent the formation of cavities, according to the California Dental Association, and you may recognize the ingredient from dentist-approved chewing gum.
If you struggle to brush your teeth without accidentally swallowing some toothpaste while you’re at it, Gandhi recommends Risewell’s fluoride-free toothpaste, which features a naturally occurring ingredient called hydroxyapatite to strengthen enamel.
In a study published in 2019, researchers found that hydroxyapatite had similar efficacy in preventing dental caries in children as fluoride. Other ingredients in this natural option include cavity-fighting xylitol and breath-freshening peppermint and tea tree oils.
Beverly Hills dentist Joseph Goodman, DDS, recommends Jason toothpaste, saying that it’s “refreshing” and can “still help fight plaque and tooth decay” despite being fluoride- and SLS-free. The key ingredient in this toothpaste, calcium carbonate, is commonly used as a mild abrasive to remove plaque.
One component of Jason toothpaste stands out: Blue-green algae. But it’s in there for a reason—there’s evidence that the sea-sourced plant can have an anti-inflammatory effect for people who struggle with chronic periodontitis, or gum disease.
If you’re considering switching to a natural toothpaste because you’re experiencing dental or gum sensitivity, Hackney recommends Hello’s toothpaste, which is specifically developed to soothe as it works to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy. It doesn’t contain SLS, but it does have fluoride for its cavity-preventing benefits.
This toothpaste is certified with the seal of the American Dental Association—a stamp of approval that many natural toothpastes don’t have.
Over the course of her career as a private practice dentist, Flora Stay, DDS, learned that canker sores, perioral dermatitis, and dry mouth can all be caused by irritating ingredients in toothpaste—which led her to develop her own.
Her resulting product, Cleure, is free of fluoride and SLS, as well as dyes, parabens, and even mint flavors. It contains xylitol to help reduce the occurrence of cavities.
Lilya Horowitz, DDS, of New York City’s Domino Dental also recommends Hello’s toothpaste, but specifically its fluoride-free option. “It feels good and freshens breath without harsh chemicals, parabens, and SLS found in other over-the-counter toothpastes.”
There are reasons why a person may want to avoid SLS, aside from the reduced likelihood of irritation: Horowitz adds that there is speculation that it can be a hormone disruptor. By contrast, the ingredients in Hello’s toothpaste, including coconut and hemp seed oils, “act as antibacterial agents, keep teeth clean and white, and also help fight gum disease and infections,” she says.
If you just can’t stand the taste of mint, you don’t have to relegate yourself to kids’ toothpastes. Instead, you can consider this citrus-flavored option. Gerry Curatola, DDS, developed Revitin, a prebiotic toothpaste that helps balance the microbial ecology of the mouth.
Essentially, this means that you’ll have better breath and fresh gums without the slight stinging feeling that mint flavors can create. This toothpaste is also free of SLS and fluoride.
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