Toothpaste substitutes made of aloe vera gel have been around for some time. Dentists disagree whether they are as effective as conventional toothpastes are in promoting oral health. A recently published study found aloe vera gel to be just as effective as or better than two commercial brands of toothpaste at controlling cavity−causing microorganisms.

This finding follows on the heels of another study published in 2008, in which aloe vera gel was found to be as effective as fluoridated toothpaste in reducing plaque formation and gingivitis. That study followed 30 people for 30 days. But not all dentists are convinced yet. Toothpaste has been around much longer and is better understood.

Because aloe vera gel doesn't contain the abrasives found in most toothpastes, it is gentler on the teeth and gums.

Toothpastes rely on soap and sand, or reasonable facsimiles, to kill and remove harmful bacteria and other microorganisms from the mouth, teeth and gums. Aloe vera gel’s ability to do this seems to lie in compounds called anthraquinones, which are also anti−inflammatory.

Because aloe vera gel doesn't contain the abrasives found in most toothpastes, it is gentler on the teeth and gums. This makes it attractive to people with sensitive teeth or gums.

But there's a big problem right now for those interested in buying aloe vera tooth gel. All aloe vera gels are not created equal.

There are vast differences in how commercial aloe vera products are prepared. To be effective medicinally, aloe vera extracts must come from the center of the aloe vera plant. And if the extract is filtered or heated too strongly during the manufacturing process, beneficial compounds are destroyed or weakened, making the product nearly useless.

Dr. Dilip George is co−author of a 2009 study published in the May/June 2009 issue of General Dentistry. He suggests that people who are interested in aloe vera tooth gel consult non−profit organizations such as the International Aloe Council for details about which commercial products have been manufactured properly and are effective.

Eric Shapria (MS, DDS, MAGD, MA) is a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry, the publishers of the journal General Dentistry. He recommends that anyone interested in using aloe vera gel or any other alternative oral health preparation also speak to their dentist about its effectiveness.