Reach for your toothpaste, mouthwash, or a pack of gum and you’ll most likely get a waft of mint. For years minty flavors like spearmint, peppermint, menthol, winter fresh, and sweet mint have dominated the dental care market, and no flavor has been able to dethrone the almighty mint. In fact, about 45% of the mint oil produced in America is used for oral hygiene products, and another 45% is used up by chewing gum.
But what made mint take hold of the oral health market, and what do you do to take care of your mouth if you can’t tolerate mint? Keep reading to learn more about how mint took over the toothpaste market, why you may need to stay away from mint, and what your alternative oral care options are.
More about Mint
Mint is actually an umbrella term that refers to several species of the Mentha plant including the common spearmint and peppermint along with lesser known species like apple mint, ginger mint, and even horsemint. Different types of mint have different purposes ranging from herbal medicine to insecticides to cigarette additives.
Peppermint and spearmint are the most common species of mint, and you’ll often see them in food and drink recipes or as flavorings in chewing gum, candies, and dental care products.
Why mint is used in toothpaste
Toothpaste is estimated to have been used as early as 5000 BC by the ancient Egyptians. Their formula was a tasty combo of crushed rock salt, mint, iris flower, and pepper. However, the inclusion of mint in toothpaste formulas was not always commonplace throughout history.
Ingredients in toothpaste moved from breadcrumbs to chalk to pumice (ouch) and flavorings ranged from herbs like rosemary, parsley, and sage to citrus and ginger to no flavor at all.
Mint toothpaste took off in the late 19th century when a dental surgeon named Washington Sheffield created a toothpaste formulated with mint to mask the bitter flavor of the other ingredients. Around the same time, Listerine developed an antiseptic wash for surgical purposes which was later spruced up with menthol and sold to dentists and consumers as a mouth rinse.
This spiraled into more and more brands releasing mint oral care products, and in the early 1900s, marketers had a heyday promoting new mass-market, mint flavored oral care products to the public. The main sales strategy was fear mongering about the dreaded halitosis (bad breath) and convincing consumers that mint was the solution.
But why was mint such a huge selling point? Well, the menthol in mint oral care products tricks your mouth’s sensory receptors which creates the icy sensation in your mouth that gives that tingly, fresh feeling. Over time this has begun to be associated with being clean and free from bad breath even though mint really doesn’t have much to do with how well your toothpaste performs. Still, mint took hold over the mouth care market, and has not let go.
Reasons to avoid mint in your toothpaste
Mint flavor has become the standard for toothpaste and other oral care products like mouthwash, breath sprays, and even flavored floss. But it may not always be the best option.
How to tell if you have a mint allergy
Like with any ingredient or plant, it is possible to be allergic to mint.
If you ingest mint, and any of the following reactions occur, you could potentially have an allergy to mint:
- mouth tingling or itching
- swollen lips and/or tongue
- cheilitis (very chapped lips)
- Swollen and/or itchy throat
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
If mint comes in contact with your skin, it could result in allergic contact dermatitis (specifically perioral dermatitis if it’s in or around your mouth) which is even more common. If your mint products cause any of these symptoms near the point of contact, it could be an allergic reaction:
- tenderness or pain
- blisters that ooze clear fluid
If these symptoms are frequent, visit your doctor for an allergy test to see if you can narrow it down to a mint allergy.
You may also be a-ok with using mint toothpaste for most of your life, but then come to be sensitive to it over time. Sensitization is the process where your body becomes sensitive to a particular substance over time due to exposure. As a result, you will likely develop symptoms of an allergy each time you come into contact with that same allergen.
Salicylate sensitivities and allergies
>Salicylates are a group of chemicals derived from salicylic acid which are found naturally in certain plants and synthetically in products like medications, toothpaste, and food preservatives.
Mint, mint oils, and menthol are all very high in salicylates so if you are sensitive or allergic to salicylates, it’s necessary to leave mint and mint flavoring out of all personal care products.
The Guaifenesin Protocol
Dr Paul St. Amand’s treatment plan for fibromyalgia involves using the medication guaifenesin to make your kidneys pull excess phosphates from your cells, thereby allowing the cells to produce more energy, and reverse the process that he believes causes fibromyalgia.
In order for his protocol to work, Dr. St Amand recommends you avoid salicylates which can block the guaifenesin. If you are on Dr. St. Amand's guaifenesin protocol, you can use some artificially flavored oral care products. He indicates that the amount of salicylates in artificial flavors and colors is negligible and will not block guaifenesin, but mint is off limits as well as products flavored with essential oils.
Read more about how to find relief from fibromyalgia with the Guaifenesin Protocol.
Essential oils and plant extracts have also become a trendy addition to toothpaste. Peppermint oil is common in toothpaste, for its antibacterial properties. Even though it's a "natural" toothpaste alternative, it can still trigger allergic reactions and salicylate sensitivity, and its antibacterial properties may kill good bacteria and damage your mouth's microbiome.
Read more about the risks of using essential oils.
Children and those with autism or other sensory sensitivities may not respond well to a mint flavored toothpaste. Hypersensitivity leads to heavy awareness of anything in the mouth, and the strong mint flavor in toothpaste can be overstimulating and cause a bitter or burning sensation.
Mint Free toothpaste flavors
If you can’t tolerate mint for any of these reasons, do not fret. There’s a multitude of toothpastes that do not contain mint or menthol. Flavor options range from sweet flavors in kids toothpaste like watermelon and bubblegum, to more sophisticated flavors like cinnamon, ginger, and citrus.
Still too strong for your tastebuds? Do you just prefer simplicity? Cleure’s flavor free toothpaste option has no added flavor, just a subtle natural sweetness from the xylitol. The lack of mint may take some getting used to if you are used to the trickery of the refreshing mint flavor, but your teeth will be just as clean and your breath just as fresh if you keep up healthy brushing habits.
Mint-free toothpaste may be new territory if you've become accustomed to the minty fresh sensation. But switching out the mint in your oral care can make a world of difference if you deal with any of these mint sensitivities. Your teeth will be just as clean and your breath just as fresh – no mint necessary.
- How to Recognize a Mint Allergy - Healthline
- Brushing Teeth for Children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
- - The Warren Center
- The Basics of Salicylate Allergies - WebMD
- Contact reactions to toothpaste and other oral hygiene products - DermNet NZ
- Toothpaste Allergy Diagnosis and Management - The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology
- The Guaifenesin Protocol