I use a weird toothpaste. Most toothpastes come with a spiky mint flavor, and foams up to reach all your teeth’s tiny crevices, but not mine. It contains myrrh and ratanhia extracts, and looks translucent and maroon coming out of the tube. Unlike leading brands that leave your mouth feeling power-washed, Plant Gel Toothpaste evokes the aftertaste I imagine one would get after chewing on some mint leaves.
But this isn’t about clean teeth; it’s about clear skin. Allow me to explain: According to WebMD, perioral dermatitis is a facial rash that causes bumps to appear around the mouth. According to a friend who owns a botanical apothecary, a lot of customers ask about how to treat it. And according to my dermatologist, the exact cause of perioral dermatitis is unknown, but because it tends to be women who get it around the mouth and chin, it’s presumed to be hormonal.
Anyway, I had it. My dermatologist recommended a round of antibiotics, which I took to no results. Back in her office, she suggested yet another course of antibiotics, to be taken until the perioral dermatitis vanished, followed by another preventative period of half-dosage pills. Put off by the prospect of feeding my body a never-ending round of antibiotics, all in the name of vanity, I asked for an option B. She gave a peculiar answer: “Try switching to baby toothpaste.” Toothpaste for little kids, my dermatologist explained, typically doesn’t contain fluoride, which gets added to help strengthen tooth enamel. Any toothpaste with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance has it. But some suspect that fluoride can cause skin issues — like perioral dermatitis. And in New York, our tap water is already fluoridated to help prevent tooth decay. An orthodontist friend of mine, who up until recently was a general dentist, backs that up. “I don’t know the most recent literature, but fluoridation in water drops cavities in a population drastically,” he says. Fluoride-free toothpaste, he added, “is the cool thing to do now.” Hence the suggestion to return to the bubblegum-flavored toothpaste of my youth.
Luckily for me and my skin, we live in wellness-obsessed times, and there are no shortage of fluoride-free drugstore products made for adults. After a bit of trial and error involving one toothpaste that looked like pulverized earthworms and tasted like clay, I landed on the Plant Gel toothpaste from Weleda — the same brand that makes the illuminating Skin Food balm. It comes with a hint of mint, which is why I picked it over Weleda’s Salt or Calendula Toothpaste. And it works: After a couple weeks of almost au naturel brushing, my skin cleared up. I don’t fully understand how — after all, it’s not like you put toothpaste on your face — but for a perioral-dermatitis-free, antibiotic-free existence, I don’t need to.