Chemicals in Your or Your Child's Toothpaste May Add up to Poison
Apr 25, 2009 Victoria Anisman-Reiner
Think brushing your teeth is good for health? Active ingredients like fluoride, SLS, and silica in your toothpaste may be poisonous, carcingenic and damage tooth enamel.
It's small, it's minty fresh, and it's taken for granted by most of the Western world. But the poison warnings on your tube of toothpaste aren't just for decoration: common toothpaste ingredients like fluoride, triclosan, silica, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide may do more harm than good to your teeth… and your total health.
Location is Everything: Mucus Membranes in the Mouth
Even if you don't swallow any toothpaste, you're at risk from these toxic chemicals. The mucus membranes inside the mouth are one of the most direct routes to the blood, brain and other cells of the body, since the mucosal lining inside the mouth has about 90% absorption efficiency.
Active Ingredients in Toothpaste
The active ingredients in toothpaste are the ones that work to clean your teeth, kill bacteria, and freshen breath. Some of the most common active toothpaste ingredients include:
Fluoride Hardens Teeth
Fluoride is recommended to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities. Sodium fluoride, the form found in most toothpastes, is also used in rat and cockroach poison, nerve gas, and behavior modifying drugs. It has never been approved by the FDA. Fluoride can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis, convulsions, and cardiac failure. Four ounces of most toothpaste contains enough fluoride to kill a small child.
In a surprising turnaround, a 1990 study found fluoride to have no significant impact on preventing cavities or tooth decay, while it did cause an increase in dental problems, allergies, arthritis, and cancer. Nevertheless, it continues to be used in virtually all toothpaste.
Triclosan Kils Bacteria
Triclosan is used in toothpaste for its antibacterial properties. It's also used in pesticides, and is classified as a dangerous chemical by the EPA and may cause damage to the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, sterility, convulsions, coma and death. It is a hormone disruptor and is stored in fat, accumulating in the body's tissues with each use.
Worse, in combination with the chlorine used to sterilize normal tap water, triclosan forms chloroform – the carcinogenic gas used as an anesthetic but that can also kill in concentrations just over those needed to sedate.
Hydrated Silica Abrades and Whitens
Hydrated silica is a natural compound from quartz and sand used as an abrasive whitener in toothpaste. Repeated use harms tooth enamel and prevents tooth surfaces from re-mineralizing, causing significant damage to teeth.
Hydrogen Peroxide Bleaches Teeth
Hydrogen peroxide is used to whiten teeth, and is found in most whitening toothpastes. It is a powerful bleach, and is also used in the paper industry, hair dyes, clothing detergent, fungicides, glowsticks and as a rocket propellant. In high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide is dangerously corrosive and explosive. Topical use can cause skin and eye irritation, and blistering inside the mouth and throat. Ingestion of hydrogen peroxide causes vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.
Sodium Hydroxide Freshens the Mouth
Sodium hydroxide is used to give that fresh, slick feeling – by dissolving the surface of oral tissues. Sodium hydroxide is extremely alkaline and dissolves proteins upon contact, right off of your teeth and gums.
Isopropyl Alcohol and Ethanol Freshen
Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol (ethyl alcohol) are drying agents, used to speed the entry of other toothpaste ingredients into the soft tissues of the mouth and gums.
Ethanol is the primary ingredient in mouthwash and is a known carcinogen. It has also been clinically shown to destroy fillings.
Ingesting as little as one ounce of isopropyl alcohol is deadly. In smaller doses, it causes headaches, dizziness, narcosis, nausea, vomiting and coma.
Potassium Nitrate Desensitizes Teeth
Potassium nitrate is one of several chemicals used to desensitize teeth. It does so by blocking the transmissions of nerve cells within the teeth and gums. Potassium nitrate is also found in ice cream, cigarettes, bombs and as a component of gunpowder, where it is called saltpetre.
Even supposedly natural and organic toothpastes contain many of these ingredients, making it ever more important that consumers learn to identify harmful chemicals and avoid them.
Hidden or Inactive Toothpaste Ingredients
Inactive ingredients include chemicals that give toothpaste its color, flavor and texture. Toothpaste manufacturers may not disclose these ingredients on packaging since they aren't intended for ingestion.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) Make Toothpaste Foamy
These chemicals are found in shampoo, soap, hand cream, mouthwash and just about every common personal care product, where they provide a soft, foamy texture. They are also used as surfactants in engine degreaser and in car wash soaps.
SLS is known to cause skin and eye irritation and is a suspected carcinogen. SLS has been attributed with causing mouth ulcers (a.k.a. canker sores) by creating microscopic damage to the oral tissues inside the mouth.
Propylene Glycol Moisturizes
Commonly known as antifreeze, propylene glycol is used as a moisturizer and emulsifier in many personal care products – it's about as pervasive as SLS, and just as dangerous. Propylene glycol is known to cause skin and eye irritation and may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea when ingested. It has also been shown to cause mutations, birth defects, kidney and liver damage and seizures in laboratory animals.
Artificial Sweeteners and Flavors for Taste
Every mainstream toothpaste contains artificial flavors and sweeteners to add the right minty taste. These chemicals can provoke allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches, and can cause irritation to the gums and oral tissue.
Food Dye Gives Toothpaste its Stripes
Food dyes, like those used to give toothpaste its red, blue or green stripes, are usually made from petroleum products and coal tar. They have been linked to behavior changes, learning problems, allergic reactions, headaches, asthma attacks and cancer.
Even the supposedly natural and organic toothpastes contain many of these same filler ingredients. SLS, in particular, is very difficult to avoid, so it's vitally important that consumers learn to identify harmful chemicals and avoid them in their purchasing choices.
Adams, Mike, "Warning: Toxic chemical triclosan can turn your toothpaste into chloroform," NaturalNews.com, 13 February 2006.
Baker, Scott, "The 5 Hidden Dangers in Toothpaste," DownWithBasics.com, accessed 25 April 2009.
Bonner, Michael P. and Earl Mindell, The Oral Health Bible, Basic Health Publications, 2003.
DeVita, Sabina, Saving Face: The Scents-able Way to Wrinkle-Free Skin, Wellness Institute of Living and Learning, 2003.