Tooth soap: A viable alternative to toothpaste?

2008 06 12 14 55 15 354 000004481705

"Wash your mouth out with soap" is no longer just a threat parents use to scare foul-mouthed children, but an actual recommendation some dentists are making to their patients.

Vitality Products' Perfect Prescription Tooth Soap, an all-natural oral-care soap made from whole-food ingredients such as palm oil, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil, is available online and in certain health stores. It contains no chemicals such as fluoride, glycerin, dyes, artificial flavors, or sweeteners .

The founder and natural health buff, Karen Adler, started the Web site in 1998 and was looking for natural oral-care protocols when she came across research by Gerard F. Judd, Ph.D., a professor, chemist, and researcher. Judd's book, Good Teeth Birth to Death, recommends brushing teeth with pure soap.

Inspired by his work, Adler developed Tooth Soap, which hit the market in October 2003. She has been advocating its advantages over toothpaste ever since.

"Certain ingredients in toothpaste can damage teeth. For example, silica can be abrasive and glycerine can coat the teeth and prevent remineralization," Adler explained. "Soap cleans the mouth and allows saliva to remineralize the teeth naturally."

Adler also has concerns about another common toothpaste ingredient -- sodium lauryl sulphate.

"It is a cheap foaming agent and that is why it is so widely used by personal-care product manufacturers," Adler said. "It is also a known irritant that has been shown in studies to cause canker sores. It does not belong in any oral-care product."

2008 06 12 14 39 35 470 Home Oralcare
The Perfect Prescription Tooth Soap oral care product line by Vitality Products.

Tooth Soap comes in both liquid and solid form. The solid form is shredded into individual servings that people can bite into, then brush off. One bottle of soap costs $24.95.

Kerry Maguire, D.D.S., M.S.P.H, director of professional advocacy at Tom's of Maine, a manufacturer of natural toothpaste, does not agree that the inclusion of ingredients such as silica, glycerine, or sodium lauryl sulphate in toothpaste is bad for consumers. It is the way these ingredients are sourced that is important, she explains.

"Our ingredients come from plant and mineral sources," Dr. Maguire said. "The sodium lauryl sulphate, for example, comes from a coconut oil."

From a formulation and sustainability standpoint, these ingredients are necessary, she added.

There are no clinical trials to prove that Tooth Soap actually works. It is labelled as a cosmetic product by the FDA and has not been tested by the ADA.

"Perfect Prescription Tooth Soap ... is safe, effective and good for you and your family," Adler's Web site claims.

"Where is the data to back up this claim?" questioned Clifford Whall, Ph.D., director of the ADA Acceptance Program and member of the Council on Scientific Affairs.

The lack of fluoride and silica in Tooth Soap concerns Whall, who questions whether teeth can then be protected effectively against caries or kept free of stains. Silica is a mild abrasive that serves an important purpose, he added.

"It is necessary to clean stains off teeth, otherwise teeth will become dull and dingy," Whall said. "All toothpastes with the ADA seal of approval meet a certain level of abrasivity."

Because Tooth Soap contains zero abrasives, it comes with a bottle of Tooth Brightener to be used once a week.

The lack of research behind Tooth Soap also concerns Jean Conner, president of the American Dental Hygienists Association.

However, "when you get a natural product, it is more of a personal choice than an evidence-based one," she acknowledged. "There are many different oral-care products on the market, and patients need to check with their healthcare professional about which one is right for them."

Also, this product is quite pricey, Conner points out.

"As a healthcare product it does not fit in the family budget," she said.

These concerns have not stopped some dentists from recommending the product to their patients.

Jerome Cohen, D.D.S., who practices in Richmond, VA, says he recommends Tooth Soap because he is not happy with ingredients like glycerin, fluoride, and sodium lauryl sulphate in commercial tooth paste.

"They [the makers of Tooth Soap] say glycerine keeps teeth from remineralizing, and I think that makes sense," Dr. Cohen said. "Like everything you put in your mouth, the less processed it is the better."

As for the product being expensive, Dr. Cohen feels a little bit of soap goes a long way and overall works out to be quite economical.

"This product does not have any negative ingredients, nothing toxic, and is completely innocuous," agreed Barry White, D.D.S., who practices in Kingston, NY.

He tries to keep his patients away from toothpaste with sodium lauryl sulphate and glycerine.

"We have [Tooth Soap] available for patients as it is hard to find a product that is 'pure,'" he said.

Thanks to a growing demand for natural products, business is booming for Adler. The company saw sales of more than $400,000 last year, up from $150,000 in 2004.

But the lack of research behind Tooth Soap might make it harder for the product to succeed in the mainstream market.

"It is not enough to claim that natural is good," Whall said. "There are plenty of things in nature that can kill you."

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