Dentists are warning the rise in fluoride-free toothpaste could lead to a dental decay epidemic. Although fluoride-free toothpaste still contains active ingredients like kanuka oil, baking soda, and propolis to remove stains and neutralise plaque acids, dentists warn that without fluoride the toothpaste will have little long-term effect on oral health.
Canterbury District Health Board community dental service clinical director Martin Lee has spoken out, stating that once fluoride toothpaste was introduced to the New Zealand market in the 1970s oral health improved vastly. "If you don't use a fluoride toothpaste you are going to dramatically increase the risk of getting tooth decay," said Lee. “[It will] end up causing an epidemic of tooth decay in adults and children."
The New Zealand Dental Association agreed with Lee, with vice president Katie Ayers stating there are concern consumers will buy fluoride-free without realising the implications. Ayers suggested improved labelling to ensure consumers were informed.
The NZDA took its concerns to the Ministry of Health last month. Barbara Burt, team leader population health and prevention, said the ministry met with the NZDA on October 9th but the ministry is not considering any new labelling requirements for fluoride-free toothpaste.
Fluoride-free toothpaste companies have stated they’re simply offering an alternative for consumers looking to reduce fluoride intake. “Customers should be aware of the chemical nasties in the mainstream toothpaste, which a lot of people don't know about,” said Grin Natural director Tata Tan, who is not specifically against fluoride.
Red Seal senior brand manager Christel Maurer said there could be negative implications for some people if their fluoride consumption is too high.
The most common negative side effect of excess fluoride is dental fluorosis. This is the result of excess fluoride consumption in childhood, and presents as white streaks or flecks in tooth enamel that might look a little odd, but don’t affect tooth health.