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Natural Toothpastes Beginning to Challenge the Big Boys

Natural toothpastes are gaining popularity.

Natural toothpastes are popping up on store shelves as alternatives to traditional dentifrices.

Leading the pack is Tom's of Maine®, the nation's first and most popular natural toothpaste. After seven years, Tom's has received the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

It is the first time a natural dentifrice has received an ADA Seal. In fact, the company worked with the ADA to adopt a definition for the term "natural" as a product claim. Toothpaste manufacturers who submit products in the future must be free of the following ingredients if they want to use the claim "natural": synthetic sweeteners, artificial colors, preservatives, additives, synthetic flavors and fragrances.

Tom's of Maine also worked with the ADA to identify a product testing procedure that would satisfy the company's corporate policy against animal testing, as well as the ADA's testing criteria. As a result, Tom's of Maine became the first company to conduct intra-oral tests on human subjects as a substitute to animal testing, which the ADA had required.

"The delay in getting the Seal mainly occurred because we were looking for an alternative to animal testing," says Matthew Chappell, Tom's of Maine spokesperson. "We will not conduct tests on laboratory mice. In fact, we have our suppliers sign agreements that they will not provide us with materials that have involved animal testing of any kind."

On all packaging, Tom's of Maine lists the ingredients used, their source, and their purpose in the product. Most of Tom's products are available with fluoride; some are not.

Until now, Tom's has been a regional brand, capturing roughly one percent of the national toothpaste market. The paste does well in Boston and San Francisco, where it captures roughly 3 to 4 percent of the market.

"A lot of our success comes from health food stores where we capture as much as 50 percent of the toothpaste market," says Mr. Chappell. "But market research companies do not measure health food stores so we don't have an accurate measurement."

Dentists remain skeptical of many natural toothpastes, especially brands that do not contain fluoride. Also, they say, some natural pastes contain higher quantities of abrasives -- sea salt, baking soda and silica -- that may succeed in removing plaque but also may erode tooth enamel. Some brands may include high levels of vitamin C, increasing the levels of acidity and causing enamel to wear down.

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