Polishing the Pearls

Twice a day, my toothpaste tube and I do battle.  When I take the tube out of the medicine cabinet and realize there’s only a little bit left, I can see it smirking as if to say, “You’re not getting any more out of ME!”  Yeah, right.  I just flatten it from one end to the other (I recommend a hairbrush here), forcing every last bit of paste to gather at the top, ready to launch.  Then I take off the cap and squeeze like crazy.  It’s a good workout for the hands, and a mindless challenge to extend the life of your toothpaste.

Speaking of toothpaste – yep, that’s my topic today – here’s a really good trivia question.  In the Roald Dahl classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, what did Charlie’s dad do for a living?  He screwed the caps onto toothpaste tubes… before machines were invented to do the job for him.  (He also died before the first paragraph and was never part of the story, so it’s a little weird I remember that bit.  But I digress.)

Quick, name the first ingredient you think of in toothpaste.  Flouride?  Not a bad guess, but did you know fluoride makes up only a tenth of a percent of toothpaste?  That’s like a pinprick on the tip of your finger.  Flouride is potent, my friends.  Good for healthy enamel but only in itty-bitty doses.  Keep those chemicals close, but not too close.

Was your first ingredient surfactants?  A surfactant is basically a “foaming agent”, which helps distribute the paste around the inside of your mouth, which translates to better cleaning.  Surfactants remind me of those animated scrubbing bubbles you’d see in TV commercials, whirling around the bathtub surface.  You also find them in shampoos and conditioners.  Without surfactants, most of the hairs on your head would get clean and conditioned, but others would be left high and dry.

“Minty fresh!”

How about flavorants – you know, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen, or cinnamon?  If flavorants were the first ingredient you thought about with toothpaste, go directly to Jail (i.e. do not pass GO, do not collect $200).  Flavorants do zilch for your teeth.  They just make brushing a more pleasant experience and fool you into thinking you have a fresher mouth when you’re done.  You might as well chew gum.  The sugarless kind, that is.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase.  The primary ingredient in toothpaste is abrasives (and if this was your answer, you win a free dental drill).  Abrasives make up 50% of what’s inside the toothpaste tube.  They’re “designed to help remove plaque” (remember that phrase).  Think of abrasive-laden toothpaste as liquid sandpaper.  Abrasives are the reason you don’t want to swallow toothpaste.  And don’t brush too hard either.  With enough pressure, these bad boys would be happy to remove your enamel.

Toothpaste also has grit

I could list even more toothpaste ingredients (ex. antibacterial agents, whiteners, re-mineralizers), but let’s just agree: there’s a big, diverse party going on inside the tube.  Now for the bad news.  Toothpaste has no significant impact on the reduction of plaque – so says certain clinical studies. That’s why abrasives are described as “designed to help remove”.  That’s a sneaky way of saying they just keep things in check until your next appointment with the dentist.  Sorry (Charlie), no amount of brushing can replace those nasty power tools your hygienist has so much fun using.

For all my talk about toothpaste ingredients, the brand I use has very few.  Earthpaste (“Amazingly Effective!”) has no fluoride, no foaming agents, and almost no flavor.  In fact, Earthpaste has only four ingredients – water, clay, salt, and essential oils.  It’s like brushing with mud.  Wait, it IS brushing with mud!  Just as effective, without the chemicals (subtle plug).  You’ll find it on Amazon.

So all this talk about toothpaste may be important, but so is getting every last bit out of the tube.  And there may finally be a solution to that battle.  The very smart peeps at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an edible product called LiquiGlide.  It’s invisible (which okay, is a little disturbing), and it’s designed to coat the inside of a container so the contents will completely empty with just gravitational pull.  Can you imagine?  No more flattening, squeezing, or hand workouts.  Just upend the tube and 100% of the product comes pouring out.  Get-your-money’s-worth people like me silently rejoice.

LiquiGlide’s proof is in the pudding, er – ketchup.  No more smacking or shaking the bottle.  No more “An-ti-ci-pay-yay-tion” (for those of you who remember the 1970s Heinz jingle).  Our future ketchup bottles and toothpaste tubes will be transparent – and empty – by the time they head to the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, I’d have to give up my Earthpaste and move to Europe if I want to experience the benefits of LiquiGlide.  (The company has no immediate plans to sell its products in North America).  That’s not gonna happen, so until further notice you’ll find me in the bathroom, doing battle with my toothpaste tube.  It’s not so much about getting my teeth clean.  It’s about getting my money’s worth.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “How MIT could help you pour ketchup”, the CNN.com article, “Colgate’s new toothpaste tube…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Foul Mouth

Search the Guinness World Records website using the word “mouth”, and you’ll get pages and pages of results – over 250 mouthy records. Most seedless grapes stuffed into the mouth: 94. Most lit candles: 37. Most tennis balls: 5 (by a dog). Most drinking straws: 459. We’ll put just about anything into our mouths these days.  Now add to the list baking soda for brushing, coconut oil for “pulling”, and charcoal for whitening.  That last one; it makes me pause. Charcoal?

Charcoal is the mound of briquettes in your barbecue.  Charcoal is the sooty remains of a smoldering campfire.  Charcoal is “lightweight black carbon and ash residue produced from animal and vegetation substances”.  Yet we choose to put this substance into our mouths?  Apparently “Sensodyne”, “Pearl Drops”, and all those other white-whiteners didn’t do the trick.  Checkmate.  Black wins.

If hygiene headlines speak the truth, black is the new white (or something like that).  Charcoal powders and pastes are the trend-setters these days, turning the mouth solid black before – allegedly – turning the teeth a whiter shade of white.  The color cycle of toothpastes is now complete, starting with the classic whites from days gone by, moving through the entire rainbow (including the blues and reds of Colgate; the green gels of several), and concluding with a shade the darker side of midnight.  But is blacker really better? Some fan-quotes are a little vague: “I’m using this [to show] I’m in the know,” says one, and “Everyone wants to try something new, but it has to be something that looks cool,” says another, and “I’m doing it to encourage dialogue.” Sounds like charcoal is more about image and less about whiter teeth.

Rather than post an in-progress and visually-disgusting photo, check out Hannah Hart’s brief demonstration of charcoal whitening here.  She dips her brush into what can only be described as a tin of shoe polish, morphs her mouth/lips/teeth from clean-and-white to blacker-than-black, destroys her sink (honestly; it’ll never be the same again), and finally, shows off her stained tongue; a regrettable side effect of thirty days of carbon consumption.

Watching Hannah’s video, I can’t help picture something entirely inedible dripping from her mouth.  Looks like black paint, used motor oil, or the sap of some deep forest tree you wouldn’t take big money to consume.  No matter how effective charcoal powder is for your pearlies, I can’t stomach the idea. Maybe I should try it without a mirror.

Now let me admit to a little hypocrisy:

1) I relish black foods, so I have no problem putting “black” into my mouth.  Among my favorites: olives, licorice, coffee, and black beans.  I also don’t shy away from blackberries, black bread (made with bamboo charcoal!), black rice, and the black of mushrooms.  I’m told I should try squid ink pasta.

2) I brush my teeth with a product called “Earthpaste”.  Earthpaste (“amazingly natural”) is exactly what it sounds like.  Mix together dirt (well, clay actually), a little salt, sweetener, and oil, and brush, brush, brush.  It’s not sweet – though flavors include peppermint, lemon twist, cinnamon – and the dry, gritty feel takes some getting used to.  But Earthpaste sold me for what it doesn’t contain: glycerin, fluoride, foaming agents, and artificial colorings.

It stands to reason if a) I have no problem putting black things into my mouth, and b) I’m willing to brush with dirt, I should be willing to c) brush with charcoal (A+B=C or something like that).  But Hannah’s video ruined it for me.  So did the facts behind the teeth-whitening.  Yes, bleaching gels abound, but for the most part “whitening” means abrasives.  Over time, you’re removing the top layer of your teeth to expose something whiter underneath.  Goodbye enamel; goodbye tooth strength.  Charcoal, as it turns out, does the same thing, only in black.  Short-term: whiter teeth.  Long-term: digging into the dentin.

My recommendation? Skip the charcoal.  Maintain your inner child.  Eat dirt instead.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.  Also, from the Wall Street Journal article, “The Latest Fad in Tooth Whitening Is to Turn Them Black”.