Friday, January 1, 2010

A conversation with my dental hygienist, or a humasation...

I can't even hide my eco-ness from the dentist. Can't even pretend. About a month ago I finally made an appointment (after two years- ack!) to see a dentist. The dental hygienist was a very nice girl who didn't make my teeth bleed when she flossed- thank goodness.

In any case, I was curious to see whether she would notice anything about my teeth. Since, you know, we use fluoride-free toothpaste and a toothbrushes made from recycled plastic (Preserve toothbrushes rock). I wanted to know whether my teeth were worse-off without dentist approved toothpaste, honestly.

When she announced that my teeth were pretty darn fantastic, and how it was obvious that I took great care with them (thank you!) I had to bring it up. I asked her what she thought of fluoride-free toothpaste. 

Realistically, she would be the person to know. Although I consider myself a darn good critical thinker, I also recognize that there are certain professionals who are more knowledgeable in certain fields than myself. As they should be, I didn't go to school to study dentistry or dental hygiene... and a quick search on the internet shouldn't qualify myself as an 'expert' on fluoride.

Just as I don't expect GP's to be experts on speech and language...

Anyhoo, just so happens she has an actual DEGREE in dental hygiene (guess that's rare) and she researched that very topic. What do ya know?

So as she had my quiet, undivided attention (can't really interrupt when your teeth are being scrubbed) she took me through a quick run down of the myths of fluoride.

You've heard them; fluoride can cause cancer, the government put fluoride in our water as a conspiracy... and so forth. Canada has been putting fluoride in municipal water systems for about 40 years in order to prevent tooth decay. In Ontario there has been discussion of stopping this practice. Basically, her answer was that sure fluoride has been found to have adverse health effects, in China where they put ten times the recommended dosage in the 1980's. Which is the most common research 'study' that is quoted on the internet. Ohhhh, yes. This makes sense. 

One of the issues with relying on second hand sources (such as my blog actually!) that quote scientific studies, is that most of the time results can be blown WAY out of proportion very easily. If you've never learned how to analyze the Results and Methods section of published papers, then you may misinterpret the findings. For example, missing the small essential fact that a study was published in 1983, using test subjects in China and a dosage of fluoride WAY out of the norm.

Another issue; most researchers will tell you that a study that is more than 10 years old is considered out of date... so that article published in 1997, not really usable in a review. Of course, internet sources aren't usable either... (Oh APA Manual, how I despised you).

She informed me of what I already knew- municipal water supplies have strict regulations in Canada on how much fluoride is placed in the drinking water. I asked her if we really needed MORE fluoride from our toothpaste, and regular fluoride treatments at the dentist (which are expensive by the way). To which she of course replied- there is no evidence that it hurts.

When I pushed her a little more, she admitted that if I drank tap water (YES I do! You all know my feelings on privatization of water...), and since toothpaste has all those other lovely chemicals (parabens, artificial flavours etc) that I was getting enough for healthy teeth. She still recommended a fluoride treatment that day... which I politely refused. They taste gross.

What I didn't tell her was that growing up we had a well... and were not connected to a water supply (for those of you who may be wondering, No I did not have to go collect water from a bucket every day... seriously I got asked that while living in Montreal. Often. It's called a pump and pipes). So no fluoride for us from tap water, and I have great teeth. We got regular fluoride treatments, brushed our teeth with fluoride toothpaste... which most likely was enough.

Like shampoo and body soap, toothpaste is something we use and ends up down our drains and into our water eco-systems. Unfortunately, our sewage systems are ill equipped to process all the synthetic chemicals we're using, with most ending up in our lakes and rivers and consequently our aquatic life... with a domino effect of bio-accumulation.

When she handed me my *plastic* treat bag I was completely confused. My rural dentist just gave me a toothbrush... none of this crazy city, birthday treat bag stuff. I really wanted to politely hand it back, but already felt like a weird eco-nerd and lost my resolve... boo! Such small things that could save a ton of plastic if they simply gave out a toothbrush.

I left the office confident that my use of fluoride-free Green Beaver Frosty Mint toothpaste (best mint toothpaste EVER) wasn't causing some crazy fluoride-deprived reaction in my teeth. Also, that out of all the other more prevalent issues surrounding climate change and the environment today, worrying about possible health risks of fluoride exposure would be a waste of my time... Especially since my only exposure is through the minimal dosage in our tap water.

Happy and Blessed 2010!

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. But what was in the treat bag???

    I'm on well water (have been most of my life), but use regular toothpaste most of the time too. I've tried a few natural toothpaste brands that where hit and miss. I liked Kiss My Face and Green Beaver brand, but it's hard to get those where I live. Are there places online?

    I've had no problems with my teeth yet.

  2. It's pretty hard to expect that someone in the profession, with a dental hygiene degree no less, will say all that much negative about fluoride. They've been trained to believe in it's value. It's like doctors who completely dismiss herbal medicine; their entire education has trained them to believe in a single health narrative, and to dismiss all others as lies and mythologies.

    What's interesting is that many European countries do not put fluoride in their water supply. People use toothpaste with fluoride, but there are no other props, and their teeth are no better or worse than us here in North America.

    I rarely use fluoride toothpaste, but drink tap water - for whatever that's worth.

    It's worth considering that there could be too much fluoride being used, even if there are also a lot of alarmists out there.

  3. I enjoyed hearing about your dental adventure! Thanks, EcoFantasticoYogini!

  4. Grace: lol there was toothpaste, a brush and floss. that's it. in a plastic bag.
    well... i know you could probably order green beaver online... but lots of places in the city sell them (petes and planet organic anyways)... perhaps saved for when you make a trip in? i'm sure it's probably fine to just continue using regular toothpaste... i for one am not a huge fan of only baking soda...
    maybe i should look up a homemade toothpaste recipe...

    Nathan: you're right of course- just because there are alarmists, does not mean that having so many synthetic chemicals in our system, dynamically, aren't doing some damage.
    It's simply a shame that regular consumers are now being forced into this age of distrust... and we now must all be generalist experts. As the 'experts' aren't to be trusted...

    Brooks- lol, thanks :)

  5. I've been using non-flouride toothpaste for years, for slightly different reasons than you - it's the only toothpaste that you can buy in the UK that is not tested on animals. Anyhoo I'm 35 and cavity free.

    I am however way too scared of my dentist to tell him my toothpaste of choice....

  6. Glad to hear this - I've never had the guts to discuss this with my dental professionals. I love my dentist to death - he's been my dentist for half my life. But...they are die-hard fluoride lovers. Every few years, they make you fill out a questionnaire, and one of the questions is: "Do you believe in the scientifically-proven benefits of fluoride?" I either check yes or leave it blank, cuz I don't want to have a discussion about it. Nor do I tell them that I use fluoride-free toothpaste. No cavities last summer, so I think I'll be okay and keep my fluoride-avoidance to myself. :)


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