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Introduction

Having clean teeth is much more important for dental health reasons than for the sake of cosmetics. Toothpastes marketed on the basis of their visual effect, such as whitening and smokers’ products, should be approached with caution, as they can often contain abrasives. Alongside health worries about excessive fluoride ingestion, other ingredients to look out for are sodium lauryl sulphate and triclosan, both of which have been a source of recent controversy.

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Labelling

The British Dental Health Foundation and the British Dental Association both run labelling schemes which allow oral health and hygiene products to carry the BDHF or BDA logo. Companies have to pay for the initial checks on the products and then pay an annual fee to the relevant body in order to carry the logo. The Consumers’ Association has concerns about the scheme, because toothpastes without an accreditation logo are not necessarily any worse.

Fluoride

Since fluoride toothpaste came onto the market in the 1970s, tooth decay rates have fallen by 75 per cent. However, there are associated health concerns. Over-exposure to fluoride can lead to fluorosis, with flu-like symptoms and possible links to future thyroid problems, so manufacturers warn against ingestion of toothpaste, particularly for children. However, the amount of fluoride in toothpaste has not been proven to pose a serious health risk, and the benefits of healthy teeth are usually thought to outweigh any potential problems. Readers concerned about their fluoride intake, particularly the 10 per cent of the British population who live in areas where the water is fluoridated, can choose fluoride-free toothpastes such as Green People, Kingfisher, Tom’s of Maine or the appropriate Weleda brand.

Other ingredients

Many toothpastes contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a synthetic foaming agent. Some experts have raised concerns about this ingredient, saying that it is a suspected gastro-intestinal or liver toxicant. Others point to the fact that it has been associated with recurrent mouth ulcers. It is also an industrial-strength detergent, so many people may want to think twice before putting it in their mouths. However, a small application for a short period followed by a thorough rinsing Toothpaste should be harmless for most people.

For those with a recurring mouth ulcer problem, Green People and Weleda toothpastes are SLS-free. Triclosan (which may also be listed under CH 3635, Irgasan Ch 3635 or Ster-Zac) is an antibacterial agent which has caused controversy because it may increase the growth of superbugs, although it has not been shown to be dangerous for human health.

All toothpastes list the active ingredients, so levels of triclosan and fluoride salts present in the paste should always be found on the packet. Toothpaste brands which contain triclosan include Colgate, Crest, Mentadent P, Sensodyne F and Macleans. Other brands marketing themselves as ‘antibacterial’ may also contain triclosan.

Packaging

Most toothpastes now come in plastic tubes, and several in pump dispensers. Some still come in the traditional aluminium tube. Tom’s of Maine says that its aluminium tube, lined with food-grade plastic, can be recycled along with aluminium cans. Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste is packed in boxes manufactured from recycled cardboard and its tubes are made from biodegradable cellulose.

Ethical alternatives

Dabur is an ayurvedic brand and made according to ancient Hindu principles. If you wish to join the 6 per cent of the population who don’t use toothpaste at all, experiment with sea salt, soot, chalk or bicarbonate of soda.

Ethical Comparison – Toothpaste Rankings Detailed Table

N.B companies that do not conduct or commission animal testing receive a middle rating (only companies with CFI’s Leaping Bunny certification receive a top rating)


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Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Green People, Kingfisher, Tom’s of Maine, Weleda, Thursday Plantation, Sarakan, Nelson, Dabur, Pearl Drops, Arm & Hammer, Mentadent P, Colgate, Euthymol, Oral B, Crest, Aquafresh

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