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SPOTLESS MAMA: Homemade toothpaste

by Anne on July 16th, 2012

Sarah’s post about natural toothpaste brands reminded me to share this one on my homemade version, in case any of you natural mamas want to give it a go. If you want to get straight to the recipe, just scroll to the end of the post.

Personally, I quite enjoy brushing with plain old bicarb (baking soda) and have found it to be very effective. My teeth are white and clean. The strange salty taste doesn’t bother me. And I love its complete simplicity. Really, the drive to come up with an actual toothpaste, with a pasty feel and minty flavour, has had to come from the rest of my family. However, we got there in the end.

There are many reasons why buying and using ordinary commercial toothpaste is a bad idea. Sarah touched on them in her post, and I will give you some links to look into if you are interested or do not already know that putting this stuff into our mouths (not to mention encouraging its production with our money) does a lot more harm than good. Here is one of many articles about toothpaste. Here is another. And another. You could very easily find more.

Instead of telling you about all the bad stuff that is not in this toothpaste, I’m going to tell you about the great stuff that is. All the ingredients are healthy and have multiple benefits. In fact, the main ingredients are drawn from the familiar spotless repertoire: coconut oil and bicarb.

Despite the many wonderful properties of both bicarb and coconut oil, there are two main concerns (one each) that come up whenever I see them mentioned being used for tooth-brushing. Firstly, some people are concerned that bicarb is too abrasive and will damage tooth enamel when used alone or as an ingredient in a toothpaste. However, bicarb’s abrasive cleaning action, though effective, is very gentle and will not damage your teeth. Far more abrasive are the insoluble silicates (i.e. sand) that are included in almost every “normal” toothpaste. Bicarb is completely soluble in water, meaning that as you brush, the particles are dissolved, preventing the abrasive action from going on too long. To protect your teeth from excessive abrasion, only use a small amount and not more than twice per day on a regular basis.

As for coconut oil, some people seem to just find it intrinsically wrong to use something so… oily, to clean anything, especially teeth. But, coconut oil is a main ingredient in soap making, and is awash with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that highly recommend it as an agent in keeping your mouth clean and fresh. And then, think of oil pulling. If you haven’t heard of this, it is an ancient Indian practice that involves swishing oil around in your mouth and pulling it through your teeth, and is used as a treatment and protection against various ills. Among its benefits are improved dental health as the oil removes bacteria from the mouth. You can read more about it here. So, far from being a wrong idea to make toothpaste with oil, it may be a good idea to spend a few extra minutes swishing it around your mouth before you spit.

These two ingredients alone (in equal parts) make a great toothpaste that suits me just fine, but which won’t pass the taste test of my family members, and doubtless of many other people out there. To begin to overcome this, I’ve added a few drops of peppermint essential oil. You can experiment with other oils to vary the flavour. Mint, orange, grapefruit, cinnamon, clove, or a mixture of peppermint and orange are a few suggestions that I have seen recommended.

The oil adds a lovely fresh zing, but doesn’t mimic the sweet taste of the commercial toothpastes we are so accustomed to (and that come from artificial sweeteners). So here I have branched out to include a slightly more contentious ingredient: xylitol. As you may know, xylitol is a natural sweetener and sugar alternative that, unlike artificial sweeteners, has many health benefits. These include the ability to assist the teeth to build strength and fight dental decay. It’s carbon structure means it cannot be metabolised by the bacteria that cause tooth decay (in fact it inhibits their growth). It also makes it more difficult for plaque to adhere to teeth. Oh, and it promotes re-mineralisation (repair of tooth enamel). All this means that, bizarrely, chewing on xylitol sweets (or in this case, brushing your teeth with it) prevents your teeth from rotting. (You can read more about xylitol and teeth here.) Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that is even produced in our own bodies (several grams daily) as a part of normal metabolism, and is found in many fruits, vegetables and the bark of hardwoods such as birch.

The reason I say it is contentious, however, is that most xylitol produced today is not simply ground up tree bark. It is derived from other plant substances, usually corn. That’s fine, except that the process of deriving it is a highly complex affair involving an elaborate industrial process. Not my favourite kind of process. That said, it is a truly beneficial substance that has been a part of human diets on an evolutionary timescale, and is really good for teeth. It is also very sweet. Including it in the toothpaste mixture immediately produced the kind of sweet taste I felt sure would please just about anyone’s taste buds.

To boost re-mineralization I also included a healthy dose of a powdered calcium and magnesium complex that I happened to have, and which is also enriched with tissue salts. The idea here is that, over time, making tooth-repairing minerals available during brushing will help small lesions in the tooth enamel be repaired before they become problematic. Several fancy toothpaste brands do this, so I thought I would too. (If you like you can make your own calcium supplement to add to your toothpaste using ground eggshells soaked in lemon juice to produce calcium citrate in a liquid form. You can read how to do this in my post about eggshells. Or you could grind up come calcium tablets and/or tissue salts to a powder and add that.)

The result is an incredibly healthful and tasty toothpaste that is definitely a lot more luxurious to use than my simple bicarb on a brush, and that I feel quite confident to introduce to the rest of my family. I’ve included the recipe for the simple version as well as my final recipe on the teeth and mouth page on spotless, but here it is now:

  • Basic mixture: Combine two tablespoons each of bicarb and coconut oil by mashing them together in a small bowl. You can stop there if you want to keep it simple.
  • Add one tablespoon of xylitol (optional, use less or more depending on how sweet you want it to be) and ten drops of peppermint or other essential oil of your choice (optional).
  • Add one tablespoon powdered calcium complex powder (optional).
  • If necessary, add more coconut oil to return the mixture to a smooth paste.
  • Spoon the mixture into a wide-mouthed jar.
  • To use, dip a clean toothbrush into the mixture, or use a clean finger or small implement to scoop some out and onto your brush. You could also use an icing piper to squirt your toothpaste mixture into an empty toothpaste tube. I haven’t tried this.
  • Store in a cool place.

Happy healthy brushing.