Aiming for greener whites.
Photo: iStockphoto

When it came time to test out eco-toothpastes for this column, I knew just whom to call: my sister, her husband, and their two boys. As a rule, their household purchasing — and philosophy — tends to straddle the eco/non-eco line, and toothpaste is no exception: two of them use a mainstream brand, and two use “green” pastes. I figured all those mouths would yield not only good testing grounds, but unfettered opinions as well.

Grist’s Picks

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Dr. Ken’s (fluoride), $6.99/6 oz.

Desert Essence (fluoride-free), $6.99/7 oz.

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I whipped up a chart for them with highly scientific categories, including things like taste, texture, and “When I breathe in someone’s face after I use this toothpaste, they say it smells …” (Sometimes being an evil aunt is really fun.) Two weeks later, I got the results back, authentic water splotches and all.

I combined their reviews with information from the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, the price I paid for each paste, and my own takes on taste, packaging, and ingredients. Here are the results.

Jason Healthy Mouth
Tea Tree and Cinnamon
$5.29/4.2 oz. ($1.26/oz.)
Big promises: Fluoride-free; certified organic; promotes healthy teeth and gums
Interestingest ingredients: tea tree oil, bamboo
Score (out of 10): 2

This paste’s spicy origins did not go unnoticed: it has a “paprika-like” smell, noted 7-year-old Sam, while dad Jamie defined the odor as “cloves and medicinal.” The flavor? Take your pick between “cough medicine,” “old tea,” and “absolutely disgusting.” In addition, the paste itself was gooey, came out too fast, and made a mess. On a brighter note, it left teeth feeling “zingy.” That’s a good thing, right?

Nature’s Gate Whitening Gel
Natural Toothpaste
$4.99/5 oz. ($1/oz.)
Big promises: Fluoride-free; no artificial colors or sweeteners; “specially formulated to gently polish teeth for a whiter, brighter smile”
Interestingest ingredients: bamboo, sage
Score: 6

With an “old-school toothpasty” taste and appearance, this mint whitening gel — which looks more like a paste — left the family’s respective mouths feeling clean. However, at least two testers found it hard to squeeze out of the squat tube; and with methylparaben in its ingredient list, it may not be the best choice. (Many other brands have made efforts to phase out this fungicide.)

Kiss My Face Whitening Toothpaste
Cool Mint Freshness
$5.99/3.4 oz. ($1.76/oz.)
Big promises: Fluoride-free; certified organic; “a naturally whiter smile … guaranteed”
Interestingest ingredient: Iceland moss
Score: 0

Universally panned by our family of testers, this paste earned reviews from “indescribably awful” to “wretched” to “crap,” netting taste and smell comparisons to broccoli, cauliflower, tree bark, and “old mints from grandma’s purse.” The people have spoken, Kiss My Face — and the people recommend that you “stop manufacturing immediately.” In addition, while this brand boasts that it’s free of the controversial foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate, it contains sodium lauroyl sarcosinate — an ingredient that actually gets a higher hazard rating from the EWG.

Desert Essence Natural Tea Tree Oil Toothpaste
$6.99/7 oz. ($1/oz.)
Big promises: Fluoride-free; no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, coloring or harsh abrasives; unique refreshing taste and ultra clean feeling
Interestingest ingredients: tea tree oil, seaweed extract
Score: 6

Desert Essence’s entry into the toothpaste category was deemed an effective cleaner with a nice smooth texture. As a fun bonus, the package carries a tip: “Save 136 gallons of water each week — turn off the tap when you brush your teeth.” But its distracting undertones of salt and baking soda could scare off some eco-brushers. Sarah, summing up the general opinion, wrote, “I wish it tasted a little better — it’s good otherwise.”

Tom’s of Maine Whole Care Gel
$4.79/5.5 oz. ($0.87/oz.)
Big promises: Anticavity and tartar control plus whitening … for a fresh, clean-feeling mouth; does not contain saccharin, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors or flavors, or animal ingredients
Interestingest ingredient: clove oils
Score: 2


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Consumer Reports’ reminds you to turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth — faucets can spout two to three gallons per minute. Get all 50 water-saving tips.

This cinnamon gel was compared to Red Hots and deemed “too spicy” — it also left the testers’ teeth feeling “rough,” “thick,” and “like they have a film on them.” Family members told 10-year-old Peter his mouth smelled like “Santa’s sour milk” after using this! Then again, family members could have been having fun at Peter’s expense. While this flavor did not inspire confi-dents, the price per ounce is the best of the lot — and Tom’s (both fluoride and fluoride-free) is often shelved with mainstream brands, so could be the easiest to find.

Dr. Ken’s Maximum Care
Spearmint Cool
$6.99/6 oz. ($1.17/oz.)
Big promises: Anticavity, antibacterial, antigingivitis, antiplaque, anti-tartar, antioxidant; dentist developed and recommended
Interestingest ingredients: green tea extract, papaya
Score: 8

Dr. Ken’s was a hit with our testing family, but is less of a hit with the Environmental Working Group, mainly for its inclusion of sodium fluoride and sodium lauroyl sarcosinate. With a pleasing, “fresh” spearmint flavor, it left this family’s choppers feeling “very clean.” Because the box and tube look the most mainstream of this bunch, this paste might appeal more to those who are skeptical of green brands, and who still want a paste that packs a fluoride punch.

The bottom line: As always, personal taste will vary, but our top picks are Dr. Ken’s, if you don’t mind fluoride, and Desert Essence if you’re fluoride-squeamish. If those brands are tough to find, look for Tom’s of Maine — just watch out for the cinnamon burn. And one final tip from Peter: all of the boxes make great items for show and tell!