Before reading on, you may wish to refer to my past articles if you haven’t already done so, but it’s certainly not necessary as this article is good coverage in itself:
Pearly Whites (26 July 2011): lots of information on diet good for teeth which is arguably very important, and how to care for teeth naturally.
Good Oral Health Secrets (28 September 2012):
1. fluoride is not good for you
2. the mouth is part of the gut
3. diet can improve oral health
4. lifestyle counts
5. brushing teeth and gargling are not vital
6. tea tree oil is a great healer
Superskinny and Supersized Share Oral Health Issue (26 October 2012): short article about food supplements both for gaining weight and losing weight which have lots of starch and sugars (although weight loss supplements may have artificial sweeteners which damage health too and I explained this in my article called Atkins vs GAPS), and more on fluoride.
In this article, I focus on the biology of teeth with a mention of dental arches and revisit on oral care. I also point out some more of the dangerous substances to oral health that I see all around in the modern world every day, even in dental care products. As an example, I analyse a few popular commercial toothpaste products.
But first, I’d like to mention Dentyne gum, presumably named with the combination of the words “dental” and “hygiene” but it’s a funny coincidence that it sounds like dentine, an important part of teeth as I’ll discuss further in this article. The original Dentyne gum was made by a New York druggist presumably to aide oral hygiene with the ingredients: sugar, gum base, glucose syrup, artificial and natural flavoring, softeners (including soy), BHT (to maintain freshness) and red 40 lake, a sure recipe to ruin the dentine in teeth with sustained use. This is a clue that hygiene isn’t all it’s cracked out to be! Dentyne now has several flavours made with artificial sweeteners. I find it of such interest that I reproduce the ingredients for Dentyne Fire Spicy Cinnamon: sorbitol, maltitol, gum base, mannitol, artificial and natural flavoring, glycerin; less than 2% of: acacia, acesulfame potassium, bht (to maintain freshness), blue 2 lake, candelilla wax, red 40 lake, soy lecithin, sucralose and titanium dioxide (color). I’m not sure whether the older version or the newer one is worse for oral health. We owe this diabolical contribution to oral misery to Mondelēz International, Inc. (pronounced Mohn-də-Leez) which is an American multinational confectionery, food and beverage conglomerate that adopted this name in 2012 and took over the American Kraft company which had recently taken over the English Cadbury company. I think this may have made them bigger than Nestlé, but they are each so diverse, it’s probably hard to say. It is one big giant of a B’org though and mind-spinning reading for anyone who is interested in the history of takeovers as described by Wiki here and its products are scary. On this note, let me continue with more about our humble teeth to give you a little ammunition in defence of real teeth as well as further information about the enemy.
Biology of Teeth
I was recently sent an email by someone who makes natural tooth powders in which it said that “A tooth is an organ as any other organ in the body. Each tooth is an independent organ.” This is what inspired me to write this article because I never thought of a tooth as an organ before. It would seem that I’m not the only one because under Organ (Anatomy) Wiki does not mention teeth under the digestion system, or in its article at all. Yet most foods would be very hard indeed to digest without teeth to start out the process. We would all have to be on a pureed/mashed/liquid diet (unless we got false teeth which wouldn’t serve the same purpose as will be appreciated after reading below). Part of the beauty of teeth is that you can see a good portion of them just by opening your mouth and looking in the mirror and know their condition. The organs listed by Wiki are all normally unseen internal organs:
Digestive system: digestion and processing food with salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines, colon, rectum and anus.
In another article about organ systems and the digestive system, teeth are listed as accessory organs along with the tongue, liver and pancreas with the mouth, stomach, intestines and rectum being classed as the primary organs in this system.
We can see from this that information is not well settled in this area. But I think if we consider the definition of organ, we can agree that teeth are organs not just hard bits of dead enamel that need to be scrubbed to rid them of unwanted bacterial coatings. Please let me explain.
An organ, in biology, is a group of tissues that performs a specific function to support life in that organism. As we have seen with digestion, in higher animals, organs are grouped into organ systems.
This is quite amazing when we think that we are equipped with 32 teeth and that these teeth are 32 organs in our mouth. Each tooth is a complete individual entity of cells that work together to perform a function. This is why one tooth can be removed and the rest still function. However, as part of a system, when one part is compromised, the rest will have to take up the slack, possibly putting more work and even stress on the remaining organs.
I think that the function of each tooth is not yet fully understood. We know that teeth can detect heat and cold. But what else do they do besides chewing food? They absorb nutrients directly from saliva. Do they send messages to the stomach about the food needing further digestion so it can prepare itself? This supports that age old adage that we should chew our food slowly. One certainly looses something more than a mechanical tool when one loses a tooth. Our bodies can compensate, but it will always be second best without the original organ.
The living cells in our teeth differentiate into the different layers: the enamel (the hard shiny surface we can see), the dentine (the next layer) and the pulp which is the innermost area. Millions of tubules run through the dentin and pulp complex. It is through the pores in the enamel and those tiny tubes that minerals and nutrients are absorbed from saliva on the outside. The blood supplies the tubules on the inside. This shows that teeth are alive and constantly changing; contrary to popular belief that the enamel is dead and once eroded, can never be repaired (although once drilled by a dentist the tooth will never be able to repair itself as it was before this treatment). However, in a malnourished body, not only will the saliva and blood not contain the nutrients needed to nourish the cells for optimal function and repair, they may contain substances that can harm teeth.
Each tooth has its own independent blood system and nerves. The pores in the enamel on teeth that allow the exchange between the tooth, saliva and everything else that we put in our mouths are just like the pores in our skin that absorb substances that come in contact with the skin or react with the it, such as sunlight and the production of Vitamin D. The enamel is a very hard substance, but it can become soft and brittle, stained and develop cracks due to deterioration from malnourishment on a cellular level and abrasion. The natural process of eating softens the enamel but healthy saliva will remineralise it. Some foods are especially good in aiding this process, such as cheese, yogurt and kefir (please note, these foods are full of bacteria).
Although human saliva is 99.5% water, the other 0.5% is very important. It includes lots of minerals and proteins (1166 compiled in one study) that build the tooth enamel, as well as electrolytes, mucus, glycoproteins, enzymes and antibacterial compounds. It also contains lots of bacteria and may contain harmful substances as put in the mouth or as a by-product of bacteria activity and chemical reactions.
I won’t discuss dental arches in great detail, but they are worth a mention because they are the structure in which our teeth organs sit. The jaw can protect the teeth but it can also be a source of stress on them.
The dentist, Weston A Price, did a lot of research all over the world examining dental arches and teeth of indigenous populations and he published a book about it called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects which I would recommend. He was especially interested in the structure of the jaw and lower part of the face. His findings consistently showed that good oral health stemmed from healthy bone structure. In other words, oral health is bone deep. Bones, by the way, are another dynamic organ system.
Oral Health Dangers
Just about everything in some shops is dangerous for teeth but I will stick to only analyzing a few popular toothpaste products here to show some of the readily available and dangerous to oral health substances that are available. Yes, even oral care products in today’s market can be dangerous to oral health!
I’ve selected two popular commercial toothpastes made by Colgate-Palmolive of New York, otherwise known simply as Colgate which has the slogan, World of Care. Unfortunately, their toothpaste products say otherwise when it comes to oral health care as I’ll explain below. I’d like the reader to take a look at the Board of Directors if possible. One of them was with Pepsi for a long time. Did he get guilty about the cavities caused by that product and that’s why he joined Colgate? Whether he did or not, it looks like more of the Borg of Directors shenanigans as I explained in my article called Hip Hop Borg of Directors.
When I think of conventional dentistry, I see that the mind-set is not one of repair, but one of covering up ... making holes and filling, drilling away teeth and covering with a crown, and white fillings on the sides of teeth and veneers. Is it any wonder then that conventional toothpastes are manufactured with the same mind-set? Please read on to see what I mean.
Active Ingredient: Sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.15% w/fluoride ion)
Inactive Ingredients: Dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, water, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium lauryl sulfate, cellulose gum, flavor, tetrapotassium pyrophosphate, sodium saccharin
There are lots of variations on a theme for Colgate toothpastes, but I’ve selected this one because, yes, it will protect your cavities ... from ever healing. And yes, cavities are capable of healing as can be realised by thinking about how the tooth organ operates as explained above. I have listed the dodgy ingredients to raise awareness, but I’ll explain further about one of them, glycerin, with the next toothpaste.
As a by the way, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) can temporarily diminish the perception of sweetness. It also interacts with fluoride. Finally, some say it is and some say it’s not a carcinogen, but it is definitely irritating and irritation leads to inflammation which may lead to disease, including cancer.
Tom’s of Maine Clean and Gentle Peppermint Toothpaste with Fluoride
Besides Sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.13% w/v fluoride ion) as the active ingredient, the main ingredients in Tom’s toothpaste are glycerin, water and calcium carbonate. It also contains hydrated silica, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, xylitol, carrageenan, glycyrrhizic acid (a sweet constituent of liquorice which seems to have a lot of adverse effects), peppermint oil and acacia senegal gum.
In 2006, Colgate-Palmolive bought 84% of Tom's of Maine for USD $100,000,000, leaving the founding Chappells with 16%. Tom and Kate Chappell started the company in 1970 with the philosophy of using natural ingredients and not harming the environment. But business is business and theirs is not the first company to be taken over by the B’org (big organization) and where big money is involved it inevitably pans out in the quality of ingredients used in the products.
The above ingredients are marketed as ‘natural’ by the company because they come from natural sources and are not manmade chemicals, but they are highly processed which is unnatural and the production process can be bad for the environment. They even claim that they use naturally sourced fluoride. Sodium monofluorophosphate 0.76% (0.13% w/v fluoride ion) doesn’t sound natural to me. But never mind. I covered how fluoride is bad for oral health in my article called Oral Health Secrets which has some good links. For brevity’s sake, I’ll only discuss two of the other ingredients, both of which create a cover on teeth and hinder their health.
1. Calcium Carbonate
Toothpastes with calcium carbonate are made with at least 50% of this ingredient, but usually a third, so it’s an important ingredient. Calcium carbonate in toothpastes is touted as a polishing agent but it is more than just a mild abrasive because it is a chemical compound with the formula CaCO3. Calcium carbonate consists of calcium cations which are positive together with negative carbonate anions, which have the formula CO3.
Calcium carbonate is also a mineral if one takes the simple definition that a mineral is a naturally occurring chemical compound that is solid and stable at room temperature. Calcite, aragonite and vaterite are pure calcium carbonate minerals, but other important geological sources are rocks such as limestone, chalk, marble and travertine. Chalk and limestone are the common sources for calcium carbonate, and then it is highly refined for toothpaste. I wonder how anyone thought it would be a good idea to clean teeth with crushed rocks?
Eggshells, snail shells, most seashells and pearls are biological sources that are predominantly calcium carbonate. I likened teeth to pearls in my article called Pearly Whites, but because pearls are made primarily of calcium carbonate, they can be dissolved in vinegar, whereas vinegar is actually good for cleaning teeth.
Tooth enamel is composed of almost ninety percent hydroxyapatite, a calcium phosphate mineral. Calcium phosphate is the name given to a family of minerals containing calcium ions (Ca2+) or cations combined with phosphate anions, which have the chemical formula PO4. So, let us please not confuse our calcium carbonate with our calcium phosphate.
Dental plaque also known as calculus or tartar is caused by the accumulation of minerals although some would have you believe that it’s just a bunch of devious bacteria and their toxic waste products sticking to the surface of teeth. MedicineNet.com clarifies the situation by stating that “minerals form dental plaque around the teeth as a result of bacterial action on food particles.” Or, bacterial action on toothpaste? One reference says that “tartar forms when the calcium in your saliva causes plaque to solidify. Did I read this right? Calcium, as in calcium carbonate, causes plaque to solidify? If this calcified plaque leads to calcification of dentinal tubules, a condition called dentinal sclerosis will develop. Moreover, calcification leads to a state of no living cells which means that the tooth part, at least, will die.
Another possibility is that the refined molecules of calcium carbonate are so small that they can lodge in the microscopic pores of teeth and clog them up, thus changing the surface of the teeth and making it easier for minerals and bacteria to stick to, but at the very least blocking access to the tooth by substances needed for tooth health. In fact, I found some evidence to support this theory.
One article on dentin sensitivity states that arginine which is an amino acid naturally found in saliva composition (and Colgate Pro-Relief toothpaste) and calcium carbonate (also found in Colgate Pro-Relief toothpaste) will inhibit sensitivity ... by occluding (blocking off) the dentinal tubules. I kid you not! Please check out the article for yourself if you have any doubts.
Another article which claims anti-caries efficacy of calcium carbonate-based fluoride toothpastes talked about calcium carbonate particles remaining in plaque and releasing calcium under acidic conditions. In addition, it further claimed that more fluoride was found in the ‘test plaque’ treated with toothpaste that contained calcium carbonate. If one believes, as I do, that fluoride added to toothpaste is not beneficial for teeth, this is not good. However, whether you believe this or not, what I would like to point out is that if calcium carbonate remains in dental plaque as suggested, it is in essence forming a covering on the teeth and does not become a true part of them. And remember the reference previously mentioned that stated calcium causes plaque to solidify? Many people go to a dentist or hygienist to have plaque removed, so, we know it’s not good. I think if plaque has calcium carbonate in it, that is what makes it build up and yellow the teeth and weakens them in the long term. The so-called evidence that calcium carbonate contributes to remineralisation and caries prevention along with fluoride is inconclusive from the research I have seen. My view is that any evidence of this will be at the expense of having fully functioning teeth and any perceived benefits will be short lived.
Further, there are lots of articles online showing that research is being done on the role of bacteria in the formation of calcium carbonate in the soil environment. Exactly what do the 1000s of bacteria do in the oral environment in relation to plaque formation? Demineralization of teeth occurs after eating because of bacteria and a change in the oral environment to an acidic or low pH one. Could it be that adding more calcium and carbonate ions in the form of processed calcium carbonate (and fluoride which kills bacteria) upsets the natural remineralisation process that is contingent on bacterial action?
It may be that more research is needed along these lines, but I am already convinced that calcium carbonate interferes with natural processes in the mouth. Also, vinegar will dissolve dental plaque just like it dissolves pearls, which I think is proof enough that dental plaque must be comprised of a substance like calcium carbonate or at least contain some calcium carbonate. Why use calcium carbonate in toothpaste when there doesn’t seem to be any real benefit, but rather the possible adverse result of promoting dental plaque and oral disease?
Well, is it just coincidence that calcium carbonate is a cheap product or is there something more sinister to it? This question seems to be relevant for a lot of products nowadays (and in the past, like Dentyne gum).
A lot of toothpastes contain glycerin. I touched on this in my Pearly Whites article, but the following explanation makes all very clear when it comes to teeth. Glycerin is used as a thickening agent in toothpastes. It obstructs the pores of the enamel because it stays on and in between the teeth. It has been shown that 20 to 25 washes are needed to remove this coating. Glycerin prevents the saliva from delivering nourishment to the teeth and remineralising them. (See Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition (2010) by Nagel Ramiel.)
Just so Colgate doesn’t feel too picked on, I’d like to briefly mention the toothpastes made by Green People as well. These toothpastes are all ‘natural’ like the toothpaste from Tom’s of Maine. Labelled as an Organic Cosmetic, they boldly point out that their toothpastes do NOT include “fluoride, SLS, triclosan, sorbitol, parabens, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, phthalates, artificial sweeteners, petrochemicals and colourants to bring you the purest toothpaste that nature can offer.” This infers that these ingredients are undesirable and other toothpastes do contain them, which is correct. But Green People’s toothpastes do contain calcium carbonate as the primary ingredient and glycerin as the second ingredient. Back to the drawing board guys.
Finally, I have to mention Sensodyne Repair & Protect (made by the big pharmaceutical company, GSK) as it sheds more light on the topic of remineralisation and blocked dentin tubules. This toothpaste is marketed with a patented NovaMin® technology, which is a product that seeks out and forms a tooth-like layer over vulnerable areas of the tooth where dentin is exposed. This clearly states that this toothpaste creates a layer over the tooth, especially where it is weak (where it is in need of more nutrition from dentin tubules, not less due to blockage of them). What is NovaMin? It is a particulate bioactive glass that delivers silica and ionic calcium, phosphorus, and sodium and causes physical occlusion of dentinal tubules from the hydroxylapatite-like layer it produces as well as residual NovaMin particles. At least one toothpaste manufacturer owns up to coating and clogging the dentin tubules (and pores as well)! Sensodyne Repair & Protect ingredients also include fluoride and glycerin (main ingredient) in addition to some other goodies such as SLS and saccharin.
Caring for your Teeth
I think this information about commercial toothpastes shows just how difficult it is to avoid adverse reactions from using such products. Teeth are live organs that need access to the outside world in the mouth through their pores and tubules which a hard coating such as that formed by using calcium carbonate and glycerin or NovaMin! block to their detriment. I would recommend making your own toothpaste. It doesn’t take long and is probably even cheaper. Here’s a really good healthy regime for a nightly oral health care routine:
1. carefully floss between all teeth
2. gently brush with soft tooth brush in a circular motion (I use a natural boar bristle one now) and use a homemade toothpaste such as one made from coconut oil (mix together 1 cup coconut oil, 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda (more or less depending on desired abrasion and taste), sea salt and tea tree oil (about 10 drops) and store in a glass jar with a lid). This toothpaste is especially good for people with brittle teeth as it moisturises the teeth and soothes the gums.
3. massage gums with finger is an added bonus (use a little herbal powder moistened with water or coconut oil?)
4. use wooden tooth picks dipped in tea tree oil to clean around the gum line and in between teeth
5. polish teeth with a small gauze or muslin cloth
6. rinse with water and vinegar mixture or drink a glass of water with 1 to 2 teaspoons of vinegar in the morning and evening. The vinegar will help keep teeth white by dissolving the plaque and any calcium carbonate that has attached to the teeth from an external as well as an internal angle.
It’s not necessary to do all these things every night, but if you are having dental issues, I think it’s a better option to take the time to do as much as possible rather than wasting time travelling to the dentist and sitting in a dentist’s chair, never mind all the time working to make the money to pay the dentist or not being able to afford this type of treatment. Having clean teeth can be addictive, but of course, it’s a personal life-style choice. With this article, as with all my articles, I’m simply trying to help others make it a conscious choice rather than an automatic unconscious one that has been programmed by someone else (e.g., commercials) usually for the sole purpose of making money. And don’t forget the importance of diet on teeth.
Before I finish, I think a little more about coconut oil is important here. It mainly contains fatty acids, vitamin E and moisture. For a chart of the fatty acids in coconut oil, see the Properties of Coconut Oil. This shows how different my toothpaste is compared to one where the main ingredient is a reactive mineral. Coconut oil is a soothing, moisturising oil. Furthermore, coconut oil contains antimicrobial agents as well as being anti-fungal. Calcium carbonate does not have these properties.
To conclude, my view is that just because we have lost one or more teeth or we have fillings, crowns, or decay, this is not a reason to give up on them all. Each one is as important as the next. Any tooth in our mouth deserves our mindful care and attention regardless of its condition. ‘Mindful’ meaning to reflect on what our teeth are called upon to do in the digestive process and what is used to clean them. They can get diseased, but they can also heal. When in good health they serve us well by helping to keep us healthy. Healthy teeth can also make us beautiful as any cosmetic dentist will tell us. None of the other digestive organs can improve our outer appearance just by the looks of them! I hope you will agree with me that real teeth are worth defending. The reward is real teeth for life, good health and good looks!
Photo Credit, Parts of Your Teeth and Gums, illustration created by Simple Steps designer Lynda Buchhalter, with thanks
Photo Credit, Colgate Cavity Protection toothpaste, with thanks
Photo Credit, Green People Peppermint and Aloe Vera toothpaste, with thanks