Several toothpaste brands specialize in caring for teeth sensitive to certain conditions (for example heat, cold) or flavours (such as sweetness). The majority of these products work by strengthening the tooth enamel, thus easing discomfort and providing the teeth with a protective outer layer.
Traditionally, toothpaste has a minty flavour, as this is said to allow a sense of freshness in the mouth. However, fruit and flavours have been popular in the past. Fruit toothpastes, however, are discouraged by dentists due to their acidic and tooth-eroding properties.
Toxicity: Over the course of a lifetime, the average American uses about 20 gallons of toothpaste,1 and even if you spit most of it out, some of the chemicals it contains make their way into your bloodstream.
Your mouth is actually one of the most absorbent places in your entire body. This is why some medications are administered sublingually, or under your tongue.
While you're dutifully brushing and swishing, the ingredients in your toothpaste enter your mouth and gums, which are the gateway to every system in your body.
Toxic Toothpaste Ingredients
The popular toothpaste Colgate Total contains an antibacterial chemical called triclosan, which allows the company to tout it as the "only toothpaste approved by the FDA to help fight plaque and gingivitis."3
But while triclosan has been shown to help prevent gingivitis, the benefit comes at a steep price. The chemical has been linked to concerns over antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a serious concern, as they can promote a wide variety of health problems, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and testicular cancer, preterm and low birth weight babies, precocious puberty in girls, and undescended testicles in boys.
Some animal studies showed that triclosan caused fetal bone malformations in mice and rats, which may hint at hormonal effects. Further, triclosan may interfere with a type of cell signaling in brain, heart, and other cells, such that researchers noted it "may not be worth potential risks."4
The chemical has also been linked to cancer, with research finding triclosan may promote breast cancer progression.5 The state of Minnesota has already banned most uses of triclosan, but it's still widely sold across the US in toothpaste, hand soap, makeup, and more.
Toothpaste appears to be one of the most potent delivery vehicles for the chemical, as research found people who brushed their teeth with Colgate Total had more than five times as much triclosan in their urine as those who did not.6
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Many toothpastes contain surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES). Surfactants are chemicals responsible for the foaming action of the toothpaste, but they also interfere with the functioning of your taste buds by breaking up the phospholipids on your tongue.
This enhances bitter tastes and is thought to be the reason why everything tastes so bad right after you've brushed your teeth.
Not to mention, SLS has even been linked to skin irritation and painful canker sores, with research suggesting an SLS-free toothpaste should be used for people with recurring sores.7
However, one of the main problems with SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in it being potentially contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic byproduct.8 The manufacturing process also releases carcinogenic volatile organic compounds into the environment.
SLS is also registered as an insecticide and may have toxic effects to marine life, including fish, insects, and crustaceans.9
The manufacturers actually tried to get approval to market SLS as a pesticide for organic farmers, but the application was denied because of its potential for environmental damage.10
3. Artificial Sweeteners
Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are often added to commercial toothpastes. Aspartame is primarily made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group, which provides the majority of the sweetness.
That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol. You may have heard the claim that aspartame is harmless because methanol is also found in fruits and vegetables.
However, in fruits and vegetables, the methanol is firmly bonded to pectin, allowing it to be safely passed through your digestive tract. Not so with the methanol created by aspartame; there it's not bonded to anything that can help eliminate it from your body.
That's problem number one.
Problem number two relates to the fact that humans are the only mammals who are NOT equipped with a protective biological mechanism that breaks down methanol into harmless formic acid.
In humans, the methyl alcohol travels through your blood vessels into sensitive areas, such as your brain, where the methanol is converted to formaldehyde. And since there's no catalase present, the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.
Symptoms from methanol poisoning are many, and include headaches, ear buzzing, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness, and shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances, and neuritis.
Fluoride has long been heralded as the answer to decaying teeth, but it's been receiving increasing scrutiny in recent years, and for good reason. A groundbreaking study published in the journal Langmuir11 uncovered that the supposedly beneficial fluorapatite layer formed on your teeth from fluoride is a mere six nanometers thick.
To understand just how thin this is, you'd need 10,000 of these layers to get the width of a strand of your hair! Scientists now question whether this ultra-thin layer can actually protect your enamel and provide any discernible benefit, considering the fact that it is quickly eliminated by simple chewing. In fact, toothpaste that contains the naturally occurring cacao extract theobromine better repaired and re-mineralized exposed dentin (the tissue that makes up the bulk of your teeth below the enamel) than fluoride toothpaste, according to one study.12
Not to mention, fluoride toothpaste is often the largest single source of fluoride intake for young children and is a major risk factor for disfiguring dental fluorosis. This is because children swallow a large amount of the paste that they put in their mouth.
In fact, research has shown that it is not uncommon for young children to swallow more fluoride from toothpaste alone than is recommended as an entire day's ingestion from all sources.13
Swallowing fluoride, as is the case with fluoridated drinking water, is especially detrimental to your health, as the science clearly demonstrates that fluoride is a toxic chemical that accumulates in your tissues over time, wreaks havoc with enzymes, and produces a number of serious adverse health effects, including neurological and endocrine dysfunction.
Children are particularly at risk for adverse effects of overexposure. If you have a young child, therefore, it's recommended that you use a non-fluoride toothpaste, although I recommend the same for adults as well.
5. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a type of mineral oil that, in the industrial grade, is used in antifreeze, paints, enamels, and airplane de-icers. The pharmaceutical-grade form is used in many personal care products, including toothpaste, as a surfactant. Research on the safety of propylene glycol in personal care products is lacking, although it's a known skin, eye, and lung irritant and may cause organ system toxicity.14 This is clearly not a substance you want to be brushing your teeth with.
6. Diethanolamine (DEA)
DEA is found in many foaming products such as toothpaste. It's a known hormone disrupter and can react with other ingredients to form a potential carcinogen called NDEA (N-nitrosodiethanolamine), which is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with cancers of the stomach, esophagus, liver, and bladder.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranks DEA as a number 10 in its cosmetics database (the most toxic score) due to high concerns of organ system toxicity, contamination concerns and irritation, along with moderate cancer risk. The California Environmental Protection Agency lists DEA as a possible human carcinogen.15
Microbeads are tiny plastic pellets found in body washes, facial scrubs, toothpaste, and more. The microbeads go down your drain, through the filters at most wastewater treatment plants, and out into the environment. Plastic microbeads absorb toxins from the water and are eaten by a wide variety of marine life and, ultimately, by humans as well. There's good reason to boycott any toothpaste containing microbeads, even aside from the obvious environmental threat. Last year, a Dallas dental hygienist reported finding the microbeads in patients' teeth.
The bits were found in Crest microbead toothpaste and were getting trapped under patients' gums. This gives food and bacteria an entrance to your gum line, which could actually cause gum disease.16 Procter & Gamble, which makes Crest, reported they would stop using the microbeads by 2016 as a result. But while it seems the use of microbeads is on its way out, the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) is lobbying to have microbeads made from biodegradable plastic such as polylactic acid (PLA) remain in personal care products.