Move over fluoride, there’s a new toothpaste in town.
The naturally occurring mineral has been used in toothpaste since 1956 to strengthen the protective enamel around our teeth and prevent the formation of cavities, or casies. Fluoride has been studied extensively and is considered a safe and effective way to protect our teeth.
However, excessive fluoride exposure can cause dental fluorosis, a condition that causes changes in the appearance of tooth enamel. Some studies have raised tentative concerns about the effects of fluoride exposure on the developing human brain.
“More and more studies show neurotoxic effects of fluoride as well as other side effects of fluorides,” Elzbieta Paszynska, a professor in integrated dentistry at the Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland, told Newsweek. “There are generally recommendations about very low doses of fluoride [being used] for young children. However, from a preventive point of view, this is too low to defend against caries.”
Today, toothpastes that carry the American Dentistry Association Seal of Acceptance must contain fluoride. However, research by Paszynska and her team has demonstrated that there may be a safe and equally effective alternative to fluoride. The results of their study were published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health on July 18.
“The active ingredient hydroxyapatite is inspired by the natural tooth-enamel crystallites,” Paszynska said. “In our study, we found that hydroxyapatite was as effective as fluoride regarding caries’ prevention.”
Hydroxyapatite is a calcium-based mineral found in human teeth and bones. It can also be made in a lab to be used in oral-care products like toothpaste and mouth wash.
The compound has previously been shown to be an effective treatment for oral conditions like gum disease and may also relieve tooth sensitivity. As it is already found inside our bones, this compound appears to be highly compatible with the human body. “Hydroxyapatite systems show no side effects and do not cause adverse allergic or toxic reactions in children and adults,” Paszynska said.
Paszynska and her team recruited 171 adult patients to participate in the 18-month-long study. Half of the participants were given 1450ppm [parts per million] fluoride toothpaste, while the other half were given hydroxyapatite toothpaste. Patients were provided with electric toothbrushes and were asked to brush their teeth twice a day.
At the end of the 18 months, there appeared to be no statistical difference in the efficacy of the two toothpastes. They both worked equally well.
Hydroxyapatite may have several advantages over traditional fluoride toothpastes, too. “In the field of sensitive teeth, hydroxyapatite is superior to fluoride as meta-analyses have shown,” Paszynska said. “Unlike fluorides, hydroxyapatite is [also] characterized by its biocompatibility, and it is safe in case of accidental ingestion.”
So how does hydroxyapatite actually work?
“Ions released from hydroxyapatites penetrate deeply into the enamel’s demineralized subsurface, until they permanently fuse with the tooth’s natural hydroxyapatites,” Paszynska said. “Fluoride leads ‘only’ to a superficial remineralization of the outermost tooth surface.”
Hydroxyapatite toothpastes are not new. The compound was first introduced in a medical context by NASA to replace lost minerals in the teeth and bones of astronauts. In 1978, the first toothpastes containing this compound were created by the Japanese firm Sangi Co. Ltd. Today, hydroxyapatite is present in numerous fluoride-free toothpastes.
However, Paszynska added that high concentrations of the compound were required to be effective. For example, the toothpaste used in the recent study contained 10 percent hydroxyapatite. If in doubt, consult your dentist.
“Our new clinical trial […] is important to form a public health perspective,” Paszynska said. “Dental professionals worldwide should be informed about hydroxyapatite properties to be an efficient alternative to fluorides for daily oral care.”