Wearing braces for two years in high school put me on the path to earnestly caring about my mouth — I’m strict about daily brushing and flossing, and bi-annual check-ups, and (smug alert!) only recently had my very first tooth filling.
But even I’m confounded by just how much I’ve been thinking about oral care lately. My desk is suddenly teeming with toothpaste tablets, probiotic mouthwash, and hyaluronic acid gum serum (yes, really), and Instagram is flooded with denfluencers (that’d be “dental influencers”).
It feels like the start of the supplement era a few years ago, when a new ingestible brand hit the market every other week and magazines and blogs were banging on about “beauty from the inside out” (guilty). Now, the dental category, too, is getting a wellness makeover — and it couldn’t have come soon enough, according to Georgia Geminder, founder of local oral care brand, Gem.
Dental is getting a wellness makeover
“People have upgraded every essential in their life, except toothpaste,” she says. “The category is still dominated by big, clinical, outdated brands that don’t cater to next-generation demands. Customers want enamel remineralisation, whiter teeth and a brighter smile, but they also want beautiful packaging that reflects their style and aesthetic; they want to feel proud to showcase their products on their bathroom sink.”
Geminder, a 29-year-old former model, was living in Los Angeles when she noticed a “huge movement against fluoride in toothpaste, but I couldn’t find a non-fluoride toothpaste that had replaced the fluoride with anything.”
With no background in dentistry, she spent “about 10 months reading research papers, speaking with dentists and buying lots of product out there on the market, [and] consulting with [holistic dentist] Dr Lewis Ehrlich, who I now call a mentor, ” she recalls.
It took two years of formula tinkering before she launched her initial product in 2020, Crisp Mint toothpaste, which replaces fluoride with hydroxyapatite, a type of calcium found in teeth and bones that’s “proven to remineralise and restore tooth enamel, and reduce tooth discolouration.”
Gem’s oral probiotic mouthwash piqued my curiosity because the beauty industry has invested a lot to educate us on the importance of a healthy gut, face and scalp microbiome for good skin and hair (again, guilty), and I’m a believer.
There was a huge movement against fluoride in toothpaste
“Just like your gut, your mouth has a microbiome that’s dependent on the balance of good and bad bacteria,” Geminder tells me. “When the oral microbiome is balanced, it carries oxygen to the gums, removes waste from the mouth and protects it against external organisms — your teeth will feel clean, your gums will appear pink. An imbalance can lead to inflammation, illness, or disease — things like tooth decay, gingivitis, oral thrush and bad breath — or a weaker microbiome, so you might suffer from ulcers and sensitive teeth.”
It’s why Geminder added “lactobacillus salivarius, an oral probiotic specific to the mouth, in all our toothpastes, to allow beneficial bacteria to thrive and flourish.”
As you’d expect, these Instagram-friendly oral care products are pricier than your average Colgate toothpaste (current price at Coles: $6). You’re literally putting your money where your mouth is. Worth it? Mmmm, maybe. If I sound like I’m hedging my bets, I am — and so are the experts.
Your mouth has a microbiome that’s dependent on the balance of good and bad bacteria
Let’s go back to that hyaluronic acid (HA) gum serum and mouthwash, because I’m properly obsessed by the idea of HA oral care. Dr Valence Roberts, principal dentist at Cosmetic Avenue, notes that HA may well plump gums, but “our gums need more firmness rather than plumping, so its benefits are yet to be proven [and] it’s not widely supported by the dental community.”
Probiotic mouthwash could have some legs, as “diet, alcohol, sugars and processed foods often disrupt the complex microbiome of the mouth, so yes, probiotic mouthwashes could help,” and he’s also on board with the idea of fluoride-free toothpaste. Dr Roberts says fluoride excels at preventing decay but is not especially great for the body (although you’d have to consume a lot of it to experience any ill effects). Hydroxyapatite “might have some benefit in replacing fluoride in toothpastes but is not generally supported yet.”
As proved by the furore over influencers and beauty claims earlier this year, brands need to be careful in claiming any curative benefits for their products. But a spokesperson for the Therapeutic Goods Association told me they regulate oral hygiene products only if they contain certain ingredients and/or make therapeutic claims such as ‘stopping’ gum disease or ‘curing’ gingivitis.
Everything else, including claims referring to teeth whitening and prevention of tooth decay, are not therapeutic claims and are regulated under the much looser category of cosmetics (you can read more here). So far, the TGA hasn’t received any complaints about fluoride-free toothpaste or HA gum serum (told you, obsessed).
But before you go tossing your supermarket fluoride toothpaste, Dr Roberts want you to ask yourself, what’s your diet like?
“If you don’t have any refined sugar in your diet and no processed foods, then the chances are you have a very low risk of getting tooth decay and a fluoride-free toothpaste should be fine for you,” he explains. “But if you are 99.99% of the population and eat processed foods and refined sugars, this increases your chances of tooth decay, which means fluoride in your water and toothpaste will help decrease your rate of tooth decay.”
As for me, I’m doing what I did when supplements first hit the scene: I’m dipping just my big toe, very slowly, into the category, and seeking out professional and qualified advice where I can (some denfluencers definitely don’t count). And to be totally honest, I’m really enjoying how nice my bathroom looks right now.