It’s a safe bet to say we all care on some level what we put into our bodies. With organic food markets springing up around the country and a return to farmers markets and farm-to-table eating, more and more Americans are paying close attention to what they ingest. But a recent controversy about a common ingredient in toothpaste may be misleading to some.
The ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate, is used in toothpaste to create that signature foaming effect we all know so well. The alleged problem? The ingredient is also used in shampoos and detergents.
“Stop Brushing Your Teeth with Shampoo,” decries one blog, a mindset that dentists like Fort Collins-based Dr. Allison Lesko cautions against.
“Calling toothpaste shampoo is a slippery slope,” she says.
That’s because, though the sodium lauryl sulfate acts the same in all products, it isn’t actually shampoo. It is a surfactant. In shampoo, it ensnares dirt and oil sitting on your scalp and along your hair shafts, making it easier to rinse away. In toothpaste, sodium lauryl sulfate helps to both evenly spread out the ingredients in your toothpaste but, similarly to shampoo, allows you to remove and rinse away plaque and bacteria from the surface of your teeth.
“You want that foaming action to remove the debris from your mouth,” says Lesko. “If it does that, it’s doing a good job.”
Dentists and toothpaste manufacturers believe the uproar over sodium laurel sulfate is much ado about nothing, but some toothpaste manufacturers with natural product lines have still removed sodium lauryl sulfate from some varieties of their products for those who absolutely must avoid it.
Lesko, for her part, likens it to another recent outcry: the brief controversy over flossing.
“A few years ago a study came out and said that flossing wasn’t necessary, but that was proven to be false,” she says.
What we do know about flossing is that in addition to making the teeth look and feel better (and getting that stuck food out), it also cleans the 30 percent of the teeth you can’t reach by brushing alone. It also helps reduce the amount of bacteria that reach the gums, helping to reduce the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis. Periodontitis can cause everything from lost teeth and gum tissue to a long list of diseases. It has most recently been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s my recommendation that patients not panic when rumors like these are started, but if they really don’t want to brush their teeth with sodium lauryl sulfate, look into ADA-approved toothpastes that don’t contain it,” Lesko says.