If you’ve visited the dental care aisle at your local supermarket or drugstore lately, then you might have noticed that there are a lot more products on the shelves than ever before. You not only have an extensive number of options when it comes to oral care products, but the number of toothpaste varieties available has also increased in recent years.
One type of toothpaste that’s become more popular lately is fluoride-free toothpaste. Once more commonly found in natural food and alternative product stores than in mainstream discount and grocery stores, today you’re likely to find at least one tube of fluoride-free toothpaste nestled in with the tubes of Colgate and Crest.
So what’s the deal? Why is fluoride-free toothpaste suddenly everywhere? Should you bother switching to it or are there reasons to stick with products that contain fluoride? Is this just a fad? Let’s take a look.
What is Non-Fluoride Toothpaste?
Non-fluoride toothpaste is a type of dental hygiene product that does not contain mineral fluoride. This type of toothpaste typically contains other ingredients, such as baking soda, xylitol, and natural extracts, to help clean teeth and freshen breath. While this “natural toothpaste” can still effectively clean teeth, it does not provide the same level of protection against cavities as toothpaste containing fluoride.
Why is Fluoride in Toothpaste?
Fluoride is a natural mineral that can help to strengthen and rebuild the enamel on your teeth, lowering your risk of developing cavities and tooth decay. Only fluoridated toothpaste can earn the seal of approval from the American Dental Association.
When toothpaste contains fluoride, it not only helps to clean food and bacteria off of your teeth, but it also helps you to fight and prevent cavities. You can technically clean your teeth without fluoride, but without it, toothpaste won’t do much to protect your teeth from cavities.
You can also clean your teeth without toothpaste since it’s actually the mechanical action of the toothbrush’s bristles that remove plaque and food pieces from the teeth. However, toothpaste has additional benefits, such as cleaning surface stains and providing fresh breath.
Benefits of Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
Some individuals benefit from avoiding fluoride in their toothpaste. This includes individuals who are allergic to it (this is rare) or are prone to excessive intake of fluoride. The latter group will include very young children or individuals with dementia who might swallow their toothpaste instead of spitting it out. We’ve expanded more on these groups below.
Disadvantages of Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
The primary disadvantage of non-fluoride toothpaste is its reduced ability to protect against cavities and tooth decay. Without the added benefit of fluoride, individuals who use non-fluoride toothpaste may be at a higher risk of developing dental issues over time. While using non-fluoride toothpaste may not cause immediate problems, it is recommended to switch back to fluoride toothpaste if dental concerns arise.
Additionally, non-fluoride toothpaste may not be as effective in preventing gum disease, as fluoride has been shown to help reduce dental plaque buildup and inflammation. This is particularly important for individuals who are at a higher risk of developing periodontal issues, such as those with a family history of gum disease or other predisposing factors.
Why Do Some Toothpastes Not Contain Fluoride?
If fluoride has such an important job when it comes to fighting cavities, then why do some brands decide to leave it out, especially since toothpaste needs to contain the mineral to get the ADA’s seal?
Well, some people are allergic to fluorine, although this is rare. Also, although most people will benefit from the cavity-fighting effects of toothpaste, some people choose non-fluoride toothpaste to reduce the risk of fluorosis, a cosmetic issue that can cause brown or white spots on the teeth. This condition can occur in young children who swallow too much fluoride while their teeth are still developing.
For that reason, some parents prefer to give their toddlers and younger children toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride. That way, if the child does swallow their toothpaste (rather than spit it out), there’s little to no risk of them developing fluorosis. Some toothpaste brands exclude fluoride to cater to this demographic, although the American Dental Association (ADA) still recommends using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste for children.
Also, some people have difficulty spitting out toothpaste properly after brushing, which can lead to the ingestion of large amounts of fluoride over time. For example, individuals with severe dementia or other health or physical conditions.
Another reason non-fluoride toothpaste has become more popular is that people are beginning to try to use more “natural products.” Although fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral, some websites, and media outlets have presented it as a hazardous substance, causing alarm among consumers. Despite misleading statements you may have heard, you should know that it’s very unlikely you will be exposed to high enough levels of fluoride in your toothpaste for it to be a problem.
What Will Happen if You Don’t Use Fluoride?
Although the best way to prevent cavities and protect your teeth and overall oral health is to use toothpaste that contains fluoride, it’s not the end of the world if you do decide to use fluoride-free toothpaste.
Depending on the health of your teeth and gums, you might not notice much of a change in your teeth once you make the switch. You won’t instantly develop cavities.
That’s particularly the case if you have sealants placed on your teeth to protect them against cavities and live in an area where fluoride is added to the drinking water.
That said, if you do switch to non-fluoride toothpaste and start noticing problems in your mouth or your dentist finds a cavity at your next dental exam, it can be a good idea to switch back to a toothpaste product that does contain fluoride.
Safety Considerations When Using Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
While non-fluoride toothpaste can be a suitable option for those looking to avoid synthetic chemicals or cater to young children, it’s essential to consider the potential risks associated with using toothpaste without fluoride. As mentioned earlier, using non-fluoride toothpaste may increase your risk of developing cavities and tooth decay.
Additionally, some non-fluoride toothpaste brands may contain abrasive ingredients, such as baking soda or charcoal, which can potentially damage tooth enamel if used on a daily basis or too aggressively. It’s crucial to consult with your dentist before making a switch to non-fluoride toothpaste to ensure that you are making the best decision for your oral health.
Alternatives to Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
If you’re concerned about fluoride but still want to protect your teeth from cavities and dental decay, there are several alternatives available. One option is to use a toothpaste containing xylitol, a natural sweetener that has been shown to help reduce the risk of cavities by inhibiting the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
Another option is to consider dental sealants, which are thin, protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth to prevent cavities. Sealants can be an effective way to protect your teeth from decay, especially for children who may be at a higher risk of developing cavities.
Lastly, drinking tap water that contains fluoride can also help protect your teeth against cavities. Fluoridated water has been proven to reduce the risk of tooth decay in both children and adults.
Frequently Asked Questions about Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
Is fluoride-free toothpaste better than toothpaste with fluoride?
The answer to this question depends on the needs of the individual. Fluoride toothpaste provides better protection against cavities and tooth decay, as fluoride is known for its ability to strengthen tooth enamel and remineralize teeth. However, some people may have concerns about potential health risks associated with fluoride, such as fluorosis, or prefer natural and chemical-free personal care products. In these cases, fluoride-free toothpaste may be a more suitable choice. It’s essential to weigh the potential benefits and risks of using fluoride toothpaste and consult with a dental professional before making a decision.
Why avoid fluoride in toothpaste?
There are a few reasons why some people choose to avoid fluoride in toothpaste. Health concerns such as fluoride allergy or fluorosis may lead some people to seek fluoride-free alternatives. Additionally, individuals who prefer natural and chemical-free oral care products may opt for non-fluoride toothpaste to align with their personal preferences.
What is the difference between toothpaste with and without fluoride?
The primary difference between toothpaste with and without fluoride lies in the cavity-fighting properties of fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens and rebuilds tooth enamel, reducing the risk of cavities and tooth decay. Toothpaste with fluoride helps clean teeth, freshen breath, and fight cavities, while toothpaste without fluoride can still clean teeth and freshen breath but won’t protect against cavities as effectively.
How does fluoride affect the body?
Fluoride has several effects on the body, primarily related to dental health. When ingested in small amounts, such as through fluoridated tap water or toothpaste, fluoride can help strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. However, excessive fluoride consumption, especially during childhood, can lead to dental fluorosis, a cosmetic issue causing pitted or discolored teeth. In rare cases, extremely high levels of fluoride intake can cause skeletal fluorosis, which affects bone density and joint function. It’s crucial to use fluoride-containing products as directed and consult with a dental professional if you have concerns about fluoride intake.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also performs teeth cleanings and dental exams. He is always happy to educate patients on fluoride and on what to look for in a toothpaste. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.