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Not only are DIY beauty treatments a fun, inexpensive way to self-care, they allow people to use non-toxic ingredients in bespoke, small batches. But when it comes to toothpaste—which is essential to maintaining not just proper oral health, but overall wellness—is a DIY formula effective? To find out, we asked dentists to weigh in on the safety, efficacy, and practicality of DIY toothpaste.
Meet the Expert
- Kate Denniston, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor, trained in both conventional and alternative medicine. She specializes in helping women optimize their hormonal health and practices at Los Angeles Integrated Health.
- Lawrence Fung, DDS, is a dentist at Silicon Beach Dental in Los Angeles, a clinical instructor at the Center for Esthetic Dentistry at UCLA, and is the current team dentist for USC Athletics.
- Rob Raimondi, DDS, specializes in general and aesthetic dentistry and practices at One Manhattan Dental in New York City.
- Marc Sclafani, DDS, PC, specializes in general dentistry and prosthodontics, and practices at One Manhattan Dental in New York City.
Can You DIY Your Own Toothpaste?
When it comes to the efficacy of a DIY toothpaste, we have a split verdict. Two of the dentists we spoke to (Raimondi and Sclafani) didn't recommend it. The naturopathic doctor we spoke to (Denniston) not only favors the use of DIY toothpaste, but cautions against using commercial varieties. And a third dentist we spoke to (Fung) came out in support of one DIY toothpaste formula and even provided a recipe. He did, however, caution against using certain common DIY toothpaste ingredients, as detailed below. So, ultimately, the choice is yours.
Let's start with the naysayers. "We do not recommend DIY toothpastes in our practice to our patients," said Raimondi and Sclafani. The main reason: a DIY formula lacks fluoride which, according to the dentists, is "recommended for the prevention of tooth caries and dental erosion for both children and adults." They add that the goal of oral hygiene is to make sure food debris and biofilm are properly removed from the surfaces of our teeth, without physical or chemical damage.
Denniston, on the other hand, advocates for toothpastes of the natural variety, especially those without fluoride. "Using non-toxic toothpaste is really important for hormone health," she says, adding that although "fluoride can help mineralize teeth, it can have negative consequences on our thyroid when used in high amounts or for long periods of time." A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health confirms the claim that fluoride present in drinking water can be toxic. The study details the harm high levels of fluoride may pose to brain development in children. However, fluoride has also been proven beneficial to oral health, and according to a 2015 study it is vital in preventing tooth decay. As such, debate over the use of fluoride continues.
Denniston adds that toothpaste isn't the only adequate way of caring for teeth, although, of course, it's important. "Typically we think of external products when it comes to healthy teeth and gums," she says. "However what we consume internally is really important as well. We need to get adequate amounts of nutrients from our diet including minerals and vitamins D, K2, and C for healthy teeth and gums."
According to Denniston, natural essential oils like neem and frankincense have been used for thousands of years to keep teeth clean. She also recommends tea tree oil for its antimicrobial activity.
The third dentist we spoke to suggests that if you opt for DIY toothpaste, be sure to avoid certain ingredients that may be unsafe to tooth enamel, and supplement with another source of fluoride. According to Fung, coconut oil and baking soda can be used safely as a DIY toothpaste, but activated charcoal should be avoided.
Coconut Oil and Baking Soda DIY Toothpaste
The base of Fung's DIY toothpaste formula is coconut oil, which he favors for its antibacterial properties. He notes that, at high enough concentrations and contact time with the mouth, coconut oil can help reduce cavity-causing bacteria. Ditto for baking soda, which Fung likes for "its buffering properties that can help keep the effects of acidity down." According to a 2014 study, mouth pH can have a direct effect on oral health. The more alkaline the pH of your mouth, the lower your risk for developing cavities and tooth decay. "Baking soda has been shown in studies to be antibacterial at high concentrations, and has a relatively low abrasivity," adds Fung.
Here's what's not in this recipe: activated charcoal, which, to be honest, was the first ingredient that sprung to mind when thinking about a DIY toothpaste. However, Fung explains that although research supports the absorptive properties for detoxification of activated charcoal, it's not proven safe for overall oral health. "The abrasiveness of activated charcoal can cause irreversible changes to the enamel, leading to gum recession, loss of enamel, and long term sensitivity," says Fung. "You want to be aware of the relative dental abrasivitiy (RDA) of an ingredient before using it in toothpaste. Anything below a RDA of 250 is safe for enamel." In natural toothpastes like Hello Activated Charcoal, the brand has undergone "rigorously testing for safety," explains Fung. But for a DIY toothpaste, using activated charcoal is just not deemed safe.
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil
- 4 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon xylitol
- 1 drop peppermint oil
- 1 glass jar for storage
- Blend dry ingredients (baking soda and xylitol) with a wooden spoon or spatula in a bowl.
- Fold in softened coconut oil and add peppermint oil.
- Blend once more, then store in an airtight glass jar.
Mixing baking soda into the formula can help brighten your smile. "A lot of natural toothpastes have baking soda in it for its whitening properties," notes Fung. However, don't get carried away and apply baking soda directly to your teeth or gums. It's not harmful, but it's not effective, either. "There's no chemical reaction [caused by the baking soda]. The whitening effect actually comes from the polishing action," he says.
Fung also cautions against using hydrogen peroxide for whitening "as it can be rather caustic to the soft tissue of the gums." Plus, in order for hydrogen peroxide to really have a whitening effect, it needs close contact with teeth ideally, he says, without saliva contact (impossible if you're making a DIY toothpaste). Instead, he suggests rinsing with a diluted version.
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Storage and Usage
Avoid the temptation to refrigerate your DIY toothpaste, as the coconut oil base makes this a little tricky. However, Fung advises keeping your batch in an "airtight container away from heat or direct sunlight." You can store your toothpaste for up to four weeks; after that, it's best to discard. You can always make the recipe in smaller batches to avoid spoilage or wasting ingredients.
Use a clean spoon to scoop out DIY toothpaste and apply to your toothbrush. Never dip your toothbrush directly into the jar of DIY toothpaste.
Aim to brush, says Fung, "at least twice a day for two minutes." He adds: "Some people like to brush after eating lunch. If you’re not brushing after meals, you should floss."
Considerations When Using DIY Toothpaste
One of the major drawbacks to DIY toothpaste is that the formula lacks fluoride, which, aforementioned, is key to oral health. If you decide the pros of fluoride outweigh the risks, you can supplement with a mouth rinse. "Most DIY toothpaste formulas don’t include fluoride for cavity protection," says Fung, "so picking up a bottle of fluoride mouth rinse will allow you to clean your teeth and gums safely with your DIY toothpaste while keeping your teeth cavity free."
Choi AL, Sun G, Zhang Y, Grandjean P. Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120(10):1362-1368. doi:10.1289/ehp.1104912
Medjedovic E, Medjedovic S, Deljo D, Sukalo A. Impact of fluoride on dental health quality. Mater Sociomed. 2015;27(6):395-398. doi:10.5455/msm.2015.27.395-398
Kianoush N, Adler CJ, Nguyen KA, Browne GV, Simonian M, Hunter N. Bacterial profile of dentine caries and the impact of pH on bacterial population diversity. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):e92940. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092940