May Be Harmful if Swallowed

Our gums and teeth are living tissue, and we should approach cleaning them a little differently than we would scrub a counter top.
As a child, you were probably advised to brush with toothpaste twice a day. If toothpaste is the magic cleaner for our teeth, then why are cavities at an all-time high, and why does toothpaste come with a big warning label, "May Be Harmful if Swallowed?"

"The blood that runs through your tooth will run through your toe in one minute." ~ Timothy A. Kersten DDS

The synthetic ingredients used in most toothpastes and rinses, including many of the brands sold in health food stores, are more appropriate for industrial purposes than for cleaning the delicate tissue of the body or cultivating oral health. Brushing with these products may be harmful to our health. Absorbing through the mouth's mucus membrane into the blood stream, these synthetic substances may lead to decomposed collagen, hindered hormones, damage to the delicate epithelium, disturbed micro-flora in the digestive tract, and, in the end, poor health.

Hopefully, no one is gulping gobs of toothpaste! However, the rate of absorption is very high inside the mouth, where the moist tissue of the skin wall, the epithelium, is only one cell thick. This is very important if one has bleeding gums where anything in the mouth will have direct access to the bloodstream. We would not want to put anything in, on, or around the body that could not be swallowed.

Some toothpastes, rinses, and mouthwashes are better than others. To help you make a wise decision about what you brush into your body, I have made a list of ingredients that May be Harmful if Swallowed.

1. Contrary to marketing madness, tooth decay is not caused by fluoride deficiency! The United States EPA has fluoride on its "substantial evidence of neurotoxicity" list. Fluoride appears to interfere with critical, bodily chemistry; damaging gums, disrupting collagen production and reducing enzyme activity. Studies have found that fluoride accumulates in the body, especially in the pineal gland, lowers IQ, forms deposits in the brain related to Alzheimer’s, promotes early-onset puberty, and the list goes on and on.

2. Some toothpastes contain propylene glycol, which is frequently used as anti-freeze and to de-ice planes. Propylene is produced from fossil fuels during the oil refining process. Though less dangerous than its cousin ethylene glycol, PG can irritate the skin and mucous membranes and increase the overall acidity of the body leading to metabolic acidosis. Though the amount of PG in toothpaste may be small, the widespread, daily use makes it potentially harmful.

3. FD&C color pigments serve no health purpose in dental products, and they may have adverse effects. Coal tar, carbon deposit, and laboratory derived colors are recognized as potential allergens and have a 20 year anecdotal history of causing hyperactivity in children. Many of the FD&C colors are tainted with heavy metals that can accumulate in the body.

4. Triclosan is a registered pesticide (a bio-persistent chemical that destroys fragile aquatic ecosystems), and it is an anti-bacterial agent FDA approved to be used in toothpaste to prevent gingivitis. Due to recent studies showing that it may alter hormone regulation, it is now under further review from the FDA. The National Academy of Sciences published a study that states that "triclosan potently impairs muscle functions." The CDC found triclosan in the urine of 75% of the 2,517 participants of a survey.

The anti-bacterial property of triclosan is starting to concern biologists; laboratory data suggests that there is a link between exposure and anti-microbial drug resistance.Also, the trickle down environmental effects of triclosan are less than encouraging; it attaches to solids in streams, lakes and rivers and accumulates over time posing a problem for aquatic life.

5. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sorbitol are xylitol generally added to improve the flavor of toothpaste. Saccharin is a petroleum based sugar substitute that was linked to cancer back in the 1970's. Sorbitol is manufactured by reducing glucose, and it has no nutritional value. Xylitol is found in many fruits and veggies, and for industrial uses it is manufactured from hardwood trees and corncobs. Neither sorbitol nor xylitol are completely absorbable, so if it is swallowed they can cause a range of gastrointestinal problems, especially in children, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Some toothpaste manufacturers claim that xylitol is beneficial for the teeth and gums, killing bacteria, alkalinizing the saliva and encouraging remineralization of the teeth. These claims are misleading; two clinical trials found no conclusive evidence of this.

6. When people find that they have breath or gum problems, one of the first things they do is go out and get a big bottle of mouthwash. Known to cause oral cancer, you may be surprised to learn that ethanol is the primary ingredient in most mouthwashes. Isopropyl alcohols and ethanol (grain alcohol) are very drying and irritating solvents made from propylene, a petroleum derivative.

7. What paste would be complete without the detergents and surfactants? Surfactants are added to turn tooth brushing in to a tidy, foamy experience. Surfactants such as sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) are known skin irritants, hormone and endocrine disruptors as well as suspected carcinogens and gene mutagens.

8. Widely used in household cleaners and detergents until the 1960's when scientists discovered that trisodium phosphate created an over-bloom of algae in our lakes and rivers. Today, it is still sold at home improvement stores as a powerful cleaner and degreaser.

With a pH of 12, which is highly alkaline, TSP can corrode the skin. It is used in toothpaste as a cleaner, and it balances high-acidic environments created by carbomers. When consumed, TSP reduces lactic acid buildup, which may be important since artificial sweeteners in toothpastes are metabolized into lactic acid. Over time, trisodium phosphate can cause tumor lesion, gum bleeding and nerve inflammation. It also may even harm the liver.

9. Glycerin is a widely used and inexpensive filler and carrier for low-concentration active ingredients. Glycerin is made from a mélange of dried vegetables that are repeatedly processed, bleached, and deodorized, the results is a viscous fluid similar in texture to molasses. Glycerin coats the teeth and blocks the saliva from doing its primary job of re-mineralizing the enamel.

10. Calcium, as calcium carbonate, is added to toothpaste for a variety of purported reasons. It is an abrasive cleaning agent that helps to remove tartar and plaque and a desensitizing agent that anesthetizes sensitive teeth. Also, toothpaste producers argue that calcium carbonate remineralizes the enamel and dentin though there is little clinical proof. Predominately found in egg shells, sea shells, limestone, chalk, marble and other stones, calcium carbonate is not water soluble or bioavailable, and when ingested it can cause calcifications, kidney stones, hypocalcaemia, and joint problems.

11. “Minty fresh!” is a marketing promise we all know from commercials. Minty flavorings are added to oral products to mask the unpleasant taste of detergents in toothpaste. Toothpastes and mouthwashes feel refreshing because they contain synthetic flavors such as fake mint (menthol) and fake cinnamon (cinnamaldehyde) that are made in a beaker in a lab, not in a plant. For example, cinnamaldehyde is manufactured by condensing benzaldehyde, acetaldehyde (possible carcinogen), sodium hydroxide (lye), calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime), hydrochloric acid or sodium ethylate (corrosives). Yum!

Real cinnamon flavoring is made from the essential oils in cinnamon bark and minty-fresh peppermint is made from the peppermint plant, and it is these authentic essences that are botanicalbiotic (kill bad breathing causing bacteria) and soothing for the mouth.

12. Carbomer is a polymer of acrylic acid, one of the byproducts of gasoline production. It is an airy, white powder that absorbs water, thus it is used to thicken liquid ingredients into a paste and emulsifies the paste so it doesn't separate. Carbomer is included purely to appeal to the consumers' ideas of what the texture of a tooth cleaner should be.

These polymers are very acidic, requiring yet another chemical to neutralize it enough to not burn the mouth, and these chemicals may not be listed on the label. Some of these are sodium hydroxide, tetrasodium EDTA, or triethanolamine (TEA).

13. Hydrated silica is an abundant natural compound found in sand, opals, granite, and other minerals. It is also found in diatomaceous earth. Hydrated silica is an abrasive used to polish and scrub the surface of your teeth in gel toothpastes. (Do not confuse this with crystalline silica, which is highly toxic.) Silica, itself, is a good natural product; pollutants and toxins may be introduced to it in the manufacturing or refining process.

14. Carrageenan is a gummy or gel-like substance extracted from red seaweed, which sounds safe and so it is often given a free pass. Recent scientific studies have noted a correlation between carrageenan and GI upset, colon cancer and immune issues.

Commercial toothpaste gives an illusion of a fresh, clean mouth, yet it is the tooth brush that actually removes the plaque. It is best to be a purest about oral care; use a dry toothbrush with a dab of salt or baking soda. The simple, time-tested ingredient baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is less abrasive to enamel than commercial toothpaste, and it has been shown to do all that we ask of a toothpaste: prevent dental carries due to its buffering capacity, and inhibit plaque formation, increase calcium uptake to the enamel, neutralize the pH in the mouth, and reduce the effect of harmful metabolic acids… and it is quite safe to swallow!

We can also maintain molars with the molecular matter of phytonutrients: brushing with botanicals, like neem, cardamom, clove, peppermint and mastic that are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal while benefitting digestion and the rest of the body.


Nadine Artemis, the founder of Living Libations, is the author of 
Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, and Renegade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance, which was named one of “The Top 10 Books on Skin Care” by The Strategist of New York Magazine. She is a respected media guest and contributor, and her products have received rave reviews in the New York Times, LA Times, Elle, People, Vogue, and Hollywood Reporter. Described by Alanis Morissette as “a true-sense visionary,” Nadine crafts elegant formulations and healing creations from rare botanicals that have skin glowing around the world. Her concept of Renegade Beauty encourages effortlessness and inspires people to rethink conventional notions of beauty and wellness.