Best Natural Toothpastes For Kids
In this article I review several popular brands of toothpaste aimed at children, and marketed as natural. I also take a closer look at what goes into some "natural" toothpastes. It might surprise you to know that regulations for natural or even organic toiletries are considerably more lax than with food. And of course, not everything that is natural is safe: deadly nightshade berries are good example!
Nightshade berries aside, what one person considers safe someone else might not, so it pays to become informed and then make your own decisions.
Why buy a special toothpaste for kids?
Firstly, many little kids (and some not so little) don't like the taste of ordinary toothpaste. If they don't like the taste, or even the smell, you'll be lucky to get the toothpaste near their mouths.
Secondly, most children's toothpastes are formulated differently to take account of a particular trait of small children: if they do like the taste, they will suck it off the brush. Even if they don't, children aged two or under are rarely able to spit toothpaste out, so will swallow substantial amounts. This can have adverse health effects, including excess fluoride causing damage to the teeth! Because of this, even dental associations now recommend that non-fluoride toothpaste is best for toddlers.
Whether or not to buy a toothpaste containing fluoride for older children is a matter for individual parents to decide. Of the toothpastes reviewed here, only one contains fluoride.
Why buy natural toothpastes?
Besides fluoride, there are many other toothpaste ingredients you may not want your child to swallow, so it pays to read labels.
For instance, on Amazon.com there is a toddlers toothpaste that contains the ingredient: FD&C Blue No. 1.
This is what the FDA has to say about FD&C Blue No. 1: "FDA alerted healthcare professionals of several reports of toxicity, including death, associated with the use of FD&C Blue No. 1 (Blue 1) in enteral feeding solutions."
Enteral feeding is tube feeding (through the nose down to the stomach) so your toddler will not be administered toothpaste or FD&C Blue No. 1 in this way. But, given its toxicity, would you even want it in your little one's mouth?
Or what about Poloxamer 407, which some scientists now believe can cause raised cholesterol? For you and I this maybe doesn't matter much in a toothpaste, because we spit most of it out. But, of course, what do toddlers do with toothpaste?
Ingredients in Natural Toothpastes
Although no two of the toothpastes listed here contain the exact same ingredients, there are some that often crop up. Let's take a look at the most common.
This is just chalk! Actually, in toothpastes it is specifically dental grade chalk.
Glycerin or glycerol
Glycerin (or glycerine) is a thick colorless liquid with a sweet taste. Glycerol is a thick sweet liquid. Sound the same? That's because, without getting too technical, they are pretty much the same. Glycerin keeps moisture levels stable and also acts as a preservative.
Glycerin is derived from fat, and can be made from animal or vegetable fats. In almost all natural toothpastes it will come from vegetable fats, although not all list the source. If you are strict vegetarian or vegan you may want to check with the manufacturer.
This is just water!
Some Controversial Ingredients in Natural Toothpastes
The ingredients below all appear in at least one of the toothpastes reviewed, and have all created some argument amongst experts. This doesn't mean that they are definitely unsafe, but it is wise to treat them with caution. The ingredients are not listed in any particular order regarding safety.
Sodium lauryl sulfate
This is a foaming agent, commonly used in toiletries. It makes the toothpaste spread more easily through the mouth to remove food.
The main concern with sodium lauryl sulfate is that in some people it causes irritation, particularly round the eyes. Sometimes sodium lauryl sulfate is made from petroleum, but it can also come from plant sources: coconut oil or palm kernel oil. The version used in natural toothpastes is made from plant sources. (Palm kernel oil has its own issues, since some rainforest destruction is due to felling trees to plant palms.)
With regard to the safety of plant based sodium lauryl sulfate, a good place to look is at the American website EWG (Environmental Working Group.) This group evaluates the safety of cosmetics and toiletries and is much more rigorous in its testing than the FDA. They class sodium lauryl sulfate as low concern, with moderate concern regarding toxicity in non-reproductive organs. (Overall it receives a rating of 1 - 2, which is low concern.)
My view is that for very young children it would probably be safest to avoid sodium lauryl sulfate, and for older children who can spit toothpaste out, it is probably okay - so long as you can be sure the origin is plant rather than petroleum. But if your child has allergies it may be best avoided.
Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
This ingredient sounds similar to sodium lauryl sulfate, and is used for the same purpose. It is made from caffeine or creatine. Some manufacturers claim in it is a safer alternative, but EWG rate it at 3, which is of moderate concern. It is approved by the FDA under the following conditions: for use in rinse off products such as shampoo or in concentrations of less than 5% in products that are left on. This also leads me to think that of the two, sodium lauryl sulfate is the safer option.
This is a preservative that some companies producing natural toiletries use instead of parabens, but other sources consider it no safer. The EU has classed it as safe to 0.5%, and it is commonly used in considerably smaller quantities. Nevertheless, under certain conditions it can release formaldehyde and therefore could be potentially carcinogenic. EWG includes it in a list of preservatives of particular concern, but somewhat confusingly, when listing it individually the site classes it as "medium concern."
This is a sugar alcohol, and is often used instead of sugar. Some people say it is safe, because it is not fully absorbed by the body. However, it has a long list of possible side effects, from diarrhea and bloating to dizziness, and breathing problems. The FDA does not recommend this sweetener for children under the age of three. Yet, it appears in 2 of these toothpastes.
Xylitol is not related to sorbitol, and is usually considered to be more natural. Dentists like it because it is not harmful to teeth. But it can also cause stomach pains and diarrhea in relatively small amounts. It's unlikely your child would consume those amounts by swallowing toothpaste during brushing, but like sorbitol, it's probably best avoided.
Silica is basically ground quartz, which is a hard rock. For this reason some people are concerned that it could damage tooth enamel. Others say that because it is used in very small quantities is it safe, and that a hard toothbrush would cause more damage. It is not otherwise harmful to the body. All but one of the brands reviewed here contain silica.
This ingredient is derived from red seaweed, and acts as a thickener in a similar way to gelatine. Recently there has been some controversy about its use in foodstuffs and toiletries, but this appears to be because there are two types of carrageenan. One type, known as degraded carrageenan, can cause inflammation of the colon and cancer in rats. Studies on humans are so far inconclusive. This type of carrgeenan is also known as poligeenan, and is not generally used in foodstuffs. Undegraded carrageenan has been used in foods for almost a century. It is also known as chondrus crispus, and is considered safe by the FDA.
Interestingly, although the EWG strongly oppose fluoride in tap water, it supports its use in toothpastes. Opinions on fluoride vary widely and I think it is a matter of choosing what feels right to you. If you live in an area where water is fluorinated or your children are very young, its probably best to avoid fluoride in toothpaste.
This is an extract of horse chestnut, and protects against tooth decay. It is classed as low hazard by EWG, but I have found several references to its toxicity. It certainly would seem wise to avoid it for anyone with an allergy to horse chestnut.
The Toothpastes Reviewed
All of the toothpastes clean teeth well, so I do not include that in individual reviews. All come in plastic tubes except Weleda, which is in a metal tube. All have screw caps.
The reviews take into account the following:
- appeal to children
- ingredients safety
- cost (I live in the UK and so the prices for these toothpastes are given in pounds sterling. This allows a comparison to be made, but does not guarantee the same price structure elsewhere!)
Weleda Children's tooth gel
Weleda Children's tooth gel
Weleda was founded in Switzerland in the 1920s, and follows the principles of anthroposophy, a philosophy developed by Steiner. Put simply, anthroposophy sees the individual - in body, mind and spirit - as connected with the world.
Weleda make toiletries and homeopathic remedies. Many of their ingredients are grown in their own biodynamic gardens or are sourced from organic and biodynamic farms. (Biodynamics is a form of organic farming that seeks to approach farming in a holistic way and to create balance.) Weleda is committed to fair trade.
The tooth gel is clear and has a mild minty taste. It is fluoride free.
- Weleda is a well established and trustworthy company using biodynamic methods, so we can be confident their ingredients are safe.
- The taste is mild.
- Of the toothpastes reviewed here this was the second most expensive. However, the cost varies quite a bit from retailer to retailer. (I paid £3.29 from a local health store, and the same toothpaste is available on Amazon's UK site for £2.78.)
- Children who don't like mint may not like this toothpaste. (One of my daughters doesn't.) The taste is mild however.
- The packaging doesn't look like that of a children's toothpaste, which could put younger kids off. (Then again they may feel more "grown up.")
- It contains esculin, which can be toxic to some people. I emailed Weleda UK regarding the inclusion of esculin in their toothpaste, and a very friendly representative told me that it has been on the market since 1996 and has an "excellent track record." She also emailed the head office in Germany, who several weeks later sent this reply:
"The aesculin we employ in Children’s Tooth Gel is a natural substance isolated from the bark of the horse chestnut tree. We have found that diluted aesculin can have a beneficial effect on tooth formation and conservation, which helps to prevent tooth decay. As a rule, the effect of any given substance on human health depends on its concentration: many are known to be beneficial in low concentrations, even if they might be toxic in high doses. The aesculin we add to Children’s Tooth Gel is employed in an extremely low concentration of approx. 0.001 per cent, and we are therefore confident that it poses no risk to persons using our tooth gel (even if they were to swallow it). The stringent tests that we perform in line with EU regulations have confirmed this."
Glycerin, Water, Silica, Algin [a binder derived from algae], Calendula Extract, Fennel oil, Spearmint leaf oil, Esculin and Limonene (from essential oils.)
Green People Children's toothpaste
Green People: Organic Children Toothpaste
Green People is a UK based company with an excellent record of environmental care. The company started in 1997 when founder Charlotte Vohtz could could not find any skin care products suitable for her young daughter's allergic skin. She made her own creams and from there went on to form Green People. The company use mainly certified organic ingredients.
I like this company a great deal, and use many of their toiletries. I find their products to be effective and gentle, and this toothpaste is no different. I like their transparency and the care the company clearly takes to source safe ingredients. In other words, I trust them.
This toothpaste comes in cardboard package and the tube is sealed. It is labelled mandarin flavor, and it tastes of exactly that.
- Tastes nice.
- Tested for allergies
- Comes in a sealed tube
- Majority of ingredients are organic, and it certified by Ecocert.
- At £3.50 for 50ml, this is the most expensive of the toothpastes reviewed here.
AloeDent Children's toothpaste
AloeDent Children's Strawberry Flavor Toothpaste
Aloe Dent is made by Optima and the company's website claims to make naturally healthy and effective oral care products. They list active ingredients as aloe vera for soothing and tea tree oil to fight bacteria as well as silica to naturally whiten teeth.
- My children love the taste of this toothpaste.
- Although I bought this toothpaste in my local health store and it is listed on Amazon as a natural toothpaste, having researched its ingredients for this article, this toothpaste appears to be a classic example of greenwash: a product masquerading as natural but that is not as safe as it seems at first. It contains sorbitol, xylitol, sodium lauroyl sacrosinate and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, as well as an ingredient listed simply as a number and another as "aroma," with no reference to its origin.
- While one of these ingredients on its own might not be a huge concern for older children such as mine, in my opinion this toothpaste has too many controversial ingredients. I will not buy it again, and cannot recommend it.
Glycerin, Hydrated Silica, Aqua, Sorbitol, Aloe Vera Leaf Juice, Cellulose Gum, Aroma, Sodium Lauroyl Sacrosinate, Xylitol, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Tea Tree Oil, Green Tea Leaf Extract, C114700, Coenzyme Q10.
Phyto Shield Ankle Biters Toothpaste
Phyto Shield Ankle Biters Toothpaste
Phyto Shield are based in New Zealand and use a special anti-bacterial and cleaning ingredient Totarol™ in their toothpastes. This is an extract of the local totara tree. The packaging is colorful and the little green reptile would appeal to kids.
However, although their packaging boasts no nasties and "all natural," a closer inspection of the ingredients list reveals both sorbitol and xylitol. Since the toothpaste is called "Anklebiters" it is clearly aimed at toddlers, yet the FDA recommend children under two do not consume sorbitol. Therefore I cannot recommend this toothpaste for toddlers either.
Two other ingredients concerned me, but after doing some research it seems they are considered safe. (Lauryl Glucoside and Carboxymethyl Cellulose.)
This toothpaste is labelled as being berry flavored. (Wickedly wild berry even!) In fact, the taste of menthol is far stronger and one of my daughters hated it.
- Packaging appeals to kids.
- 75 gram tube cost £3.06 so it is cheaper than most of the other brands.
- Contains sorbitol and xylitol, so not suitable for toddlers
- Taste is not what you'd expect from berry flavor
Calcium Carbonate, Purified Water, Glycerol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Lauryl Glucoside, Silica, Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Natural Fruit Flavor and Flavor Modifier, Menthol, Peppermint Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Totarol™.
Tom\s of Maine Silly Strawberry
Tom's of Maine Silly Strawberry Toothpaste
This toothpaste has several differences to the others. One minor difference it is doesn't come in a cardboard tube, so saves packaging. One major difference is that it contains fluoride. This means it is not recommended for very young children.
While researching this article I discovered that since 2006 Tom's has been partially owned by Colgate-Palmolive who of course make a different kind of toothpaste. Part of the sale agreement was that Tom's ethical policies would remain as before. I've been buying Silly Strawberry since before 2006, and haven't noticed any changes, except that in the last year or so plastic tubes replaced the previous metal ones.
This toothpaste contains several ingredients that are potentially controversial, but Tom's has a reputation for transparency and lists the sources of most their ingredients on the tube and of all on their website. For instance, although this toothpaste contains carrageenan, it is also listed as chrondus crispus, which means it is the type that is safe to use in foodstuffs. Likewise, their sodium lauryl sulfate is derived from plant sources. They do make clear that while this product has been rigorously tested some people can develop allergic reactions to otherwise safe products.
- At £3.25 for 90 ml, Silly Strawberry is much cheaper than the other brands reviewed.
- Tastes good.
- Approved by the American Dental Association.
- Minimal packaging.
- Contains sodium lauryl sulfate and fluoride, so is not suitable for younger children.
Glycerin, Aqua, Calcium carbonate, Hydrated silica, Aroma (natural), Chrondus crispus (Carrageenan) sodium monofluorophosphate [fluoride], sodium lauryl sulfate.
Jason's Children's toothpaste
Finally, one toothpaste I did not manage to find for this review is Jason's Children's toothpaste. I have used many other of Jason's toiletries in the past and found them to be good quality. Jason's products are readily available in North America, so might be an alternative if you can't find Green People. However, although Jason's uses many organic ingredients in their products, I suggest you check the ingredients list carefully before you buy!
My Verdict on the Toothpastes
Of the toothpastes featured here the one we use most often is Tom's of Maine Silly Strawberry.
We do not use it exclusively however, largely because I can't make up my mind about toothpaste containing fluoride - so we alternate with fluoride free pastes, and now that my kids are older we often buy adult variations.
My recommendation for safest toothpaste is definitely Green People. The only drawback with Green People's children's toothpaste is that is is not widely available in the USA. Green People's adult toothpastes are available on Amazon.com and are widely available in the UK.
Green People's toothpaste is the only one reviewed here that carries the Ecocert organic badge. This means you can be sure that its ingredients are in fact organic.
I have given Green People's toothpaste 4 stars, because it's a great toothpaste, very safe, but a little on the pricey side!
A quick guide to the real taste of the toothpastes and any controversial ingredients they contain
Tom's of Maine Silly Strawberry
sodium lauryl sulfate, fluoride, silica, carageenan
Weleda Children's Tooth Gel
Phyto Shield Ankle Biters Toothpaste
Wickedly Wild Berry
Slight berry flavor, but stronger methol flavor.
sorbitol, xylitol, silica
Aloe Dent Children's Toothpaste
Strawberry mixed with tea tree
sorbitol, xylitol, sodium lauroyl sacrosinate, sodium hydroxymethylglycinatesilica, silica
Green People Children's Mandarin Toothpaste
Mandarin, Orange and Myrrh