OK, so let me just get one thing straight: The reason that I'm writing this article is that I've been confused by the proliferation of non-fluoride toothpastes on my natural supermarket shelves lately. I thought that fluoride prevented cavities and was good for the teeth?
...and then my favorite flavor of Tom's toothpaste, which used to come in both fluoride and non-fluoride versions, now only comes in a non-fluoride version.
That was the last straw. I could no longer keep myself in the dark about fluoride. I had to have answers. I vaguely understood that fluoridated water was a BAD THING, but the dentists have been waxing poetic about the wonders of fluoride for my whole life, so surely I should keep seeking out fluoride toothpaste in order to keep my dentists happy (or, paradoxically, at least keep my dental bills down)?
So, I decided to try and figure out why people dislike fluoride and say you shouldn't use it in toothpaste.
Apparently, fluoride is slightly more toxic than lead. It's a by-product of the aluminum manufacturing process, and is produced in rather large quantities. The attempt to market it as a health-improving product began in the 1930s/40s. In larger doses, it can actually produce tooth and bone decay, as it is non-biodegradable, and in excess can produce a condition called fluorosis, which is basically the reaction of the body to the toxin. Most experts agree that drinking fluoride in water is a very bad idea, and that fluoridated water should *not* be consumed. Living in cities (like Portland, OR) that do not fluoridate their water is, then, a GOOD THING.
However, the evidence as to whether the amount of fluoride contained in toothpaste is enough to be harmful seems to be inconclusive, as long as you don't swallow your toothpaste. Most web sites, when addressing that particular question, quickly change the topic to talk about the dangers of water fluoridation. Fluoride in toothpaste (very small amounts) can cause the teeth to better resist the acidity of the mouth, prolonging their resistance to tooth decay.
Fluorine is a gas, and in nature it will be found bonded with other substances, forming compounds such as calcium fluoride. Fluoride is a compound (a salt) that occurs when fluorine ion bonds with another agent. Calcium fluoride is the most-common naturally-occurring form of fluoride, and in small amounts it is not toxic. To the extent that calcium fluoride is the compound used in toothpaste, then, that toothpaste is probably not harmful if not swallowed.
Howers, the salts used in the fluoridation of water supplies, and potentially in some commercial toothpastes, include sodium fluoride and fluorosalicic acid. These are industrial by-products from manufacturing operations, and until the dental benefits of fluoride were popularized in the mid-20th century, their primary uses were in rat poision and insecticides.
OK, so here's where it gets interesting. I would expect Tom's of Maine to use Calcium Fluoride in their toothpaste, since it is the aknowledged least-toxic variety of the stuff.
However, when I look on the back of my Tom's Gingermint toothpaste, I see that it actually contains Sodium monofluorophosphate, 0.15% w/v fluoride ion.
That sounds a lot more like sodium fluoride combined with phosphate (soap) than it does calcium fluoride.
Hmm... so, perhaps there is something to this fluoridated-toothpaste-is-bad nonsense after all.
The remaining question is, what alternatives to fluoride exist that can successfully counter the effects of plaque acids on the teeth?
One potential answer is the amino acid arginine. In conjunction with calcium carbonate and bicarbonate, it is being marketed as CaviStat, an anti-cavity alternative to fluoride.
Another is... get ready for this one... the ionic activity produced by the reaction of two differing metals in combination with the saliva in the mouth. A toothbrush impregnated with two separate discs of magnesium and copper will generate an electrical current in the mouth between the two nodes.
"The magnesium copper metal combination generates a voltage of 0.8 – 1.8 and an electric current of 2 – 1200 mA in water, in addition to H 3 O 2 - negative ions. Bacteria in the mouth may be sterilized by voltage over 1.3, which creates an electric sterilization effect. This electron activity helps remove dental plaque from areas where conventional toothbrushes cannot reach.
"Stains and discoloring can be reduced by the Hydroxyl (H 3 O 2 ) negative ion’s surface-active effect."
The sweetener Xylitol can apparently also be used to reduce plaque and fight cavities. It is a sweetener, not a toxin. However, due to its unusual chemical structure, it attracts micro-organisms with its "sweetnesss," and then actually starves them, allowing the mouth to remineralize damaged teeth with less interruption (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylitol).
The bottom line is that fluoride is a poison that helps to kill off all the bacteria in your mouth when you brush your teeth, both the beneficial bacteria and the harmful ones that promote tooth decay. To the extent that a small amount of poision may be good for promoting dental health (and to the extent that it already occurs naturally), this may be OK.
However, there's no good reason to ever ingest fluoride, as its only benefits are when it is applied topically. Allowing it to pass the throat/mouth barrier is just inviting your kidneys to be over-worked by processing this toxin.
As to which toothpaste to purchase? That's your own decision. I don't see any easy answers, but at least we may know which questions to ask, and at least at this point, the marketplace is providing many non-fluoride toothpaste and dental health options for us. Our job is to pick the one that is best suited to keeping our dental bills low, without harmful side effects.