Do You Know What's in Your Toothpaste?
Ever wonder what’s in toothpaste? It’s something we put into our mouths two or three times every day, week after week, year after year. That adds up to a lot of toothpaste. Maybe we just assume that it’s some sort of gel that cleans our teeth and freshens our breath. Well, it does do this. But what exactly is it? Many of us read the labels on the food that we buy. Does anyone ever read the label on the toothpaste container? I’m guessing probably not.
Well, curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to read the label and figure out exactly what it is that I've been putting into my mouth for the last 50 plus years. I’ll list the ingredients and then try to explain what they are. I have to be honest, the list of ingredients is an eye-opener. Not only had I never heard of some of the ingredients but a few of them I have trouble even pronouncing.
Common Ingredients in Some of the Major Toothpaste Brands
- Sodium Fluoride
- Hydrated Silica
- PVM/MA copolymer
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Cellulose gum
- Sodium hydroxide
- Propylene glycol
- Sodium saccharin
- FD&C blue no. 1
- D&C yellow no. 10
That’s it. Anyone feel any better about what’s in their toothpaste?
Not yet? Well read on.
Sodium fluoride is a colorless, solid, inorganic chemical compound. In toothpaste, sodium fluoride is used to prevent cavities and is listed as an active ingredient on the label. Sodium fluoride is classified as toxic by both inhalation and ingestion. In high enough doses, it has been shown to affect the heart and circulatory system. The lethal dose for a 150-pound human is estimated to be approximately 5 to 10 grams.
Sodium fluoride, as you are probably aware, is also commonly used to fluoridate water. Interestingly, the FDA does not have sodium fluoride on its list of approved drugs as it was in use prior to the 1938 law requiring drug testing and is “grandfathered” in as safe. Very interesting.
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent and is listed as an active ingredient on the toothpaste label. In use since 1972, it is used in many other common household products such as deodorants, shaving creams, mouthwashes, and cleaning supplies.
The biggest criticism of triclosan is that it may be carcinogenic? This concern is based on studies that have shown that triclosan can combine with chlorine in our tap water to make chloroform gas. Because of this many manufacturers are phasing out their use for this ingredient. Triclosan safety is currently under review by the FDA and Health Canada.
Hydrated silica is the abrasive used to polish and scrub the surface of your teeth in gel toothpaste. An abundant compound found in nature, sand, and obsidian (naturally occurring volcanic glass) are the most common forms of silica. When combined with calcium carbonate, it helps to safely remove plaque while brushing.
Hydrated silica has no discernible odor or taste and is listed by the FDA as "Generally Recognized as Safe." According to the FDA, hydrated silica has no known toxicity or carcinogenicity.
Glycerin is a sweet-tasting, colorless, thick liquid that freezes to a gummy paste and has a very high boiling point. It can be dissolved into water or alcohol, but not oils, so it is a good solvent.
Glycerin is a natural by-product of the soap making process and is used in medical, pharmaceutical and personal care preparations, mainly as a means of improving smoothness, providing lubrication and as a humectant (can absorb water from the air). It is found in cough syrups, toothpaste, mouthwashes, skincare products, shaving cream, hair care products, and soaps.
Glycerol is also used to produce nitroglycerin which is an essential ingredient of gunpowder and various other explosives such as dynamite.
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is often used in diet products such as chewing gum, diet drinks, and sugar free candy. It occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, and is manufactured from corn syrup.
Sorbitol is good for your teeth because it prevents the formation of bacteria that cause dental plaque—hence its use in chewing gums and toothpastes. It has been granted GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the FDA. Despite this classification, sorbitol has been known to aggravate irritable bowel syndrome,and similar gastrointestinal conditions, resulting in severe abdominal pain for those affected, even from small amounts ingested. Ingesting large amounts of sorbitol can lead to abdominal pain, flatulence, and mild to severe diarrhea. Guess that's why they don’t recommend that you swallow toothpaste.
PVM/MA copolymer is a binder found in hairspray that does a great job of making triclosan stick to your oral tissues longer. In other words, it helps triclosan stay on your teeth and gums where it can kill bacteria, rather than getting rinsed away. Binders work by keeping a formula bound together in the compound, in this case the toothpaste. PVM/MA copolymer can be highly irritating in the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate is an organic compound used in many cleaning and hygiene products. SLS is mainly used in detergents for laundry and cleaning applications and is a highly effective surfactant that can be used in any task requiring the removal of oily stains and residues, hence its use in toothpaste. SLS is used as the detergent part of the toothpaste, which helps make the toothpaste lather in your mouth. The FDA includes sodium lauryl sulfate on its list of multipurpose additives allowed to be directly added to food.
Cellulose gum is an ingredient found in a wide variety of products that we use throughout the day from our morning grooming to our evening meal. Cellulose gum is farmed from trees and cotton and is therefore readily renewable, abundant and cheap.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Science in the Public Interest consider this plant-derived product as generally safe for human consumption, with some minor cautions. Cellulose gum creates stability and suitable viscosity in toothpaste while making it more fresh and pleasant.
Are you ready for this? Sodium hydroxide is the chemical name for lye. Yes, a drain cleaner. What on earth is this doing in toothpaste you may ask? It's here to neutralize the pH of other ingredients.
Apparently, sodium hydroxide becomes very alkaline when dissolved in water, so it is used to neutralize the acidic pH imbalance caused by the other chemicals used in most toothpaste. It can be toxic if ingested. Because of this, toothpaste that contains sodium hydroxide often have a warning label that advises consumers to get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away "if more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed."
Propylene glycol is a chemical found in personal care products. It acts as a penetration enhancer that keeps products from melting in the heat and/or freezing when it is cold. It is found in items such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, acne treatment, moisturizer, toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, mascara; basically anything you could possibly use on your body.
Propylene glycol is also a component found in newer automotive antifreeze and de-icers used at airports. Oh boy! The oral toxicity of propylene glycol is very low and large quantities are required to cause perceptible health damage in humans. Because of its low chronic oral toxicity, propylene glycol is classified by the U. S. FDA as "generally recognized as safe" for use as a direct food additive.
Carrageenan is a red seaweed extract. This particular type of seaweed is common in the Atlantic Ocean near the coasts of North America and Europe. You boil the seaweed to extract the carrageenan and in that sense, carrageenan is completely natural. The product is most often used as a thickening agent and is a common ingredient in many foods and gel-like products. In toothpaste, carrageenan acts to thicken and stabilize the paste and to make it smoother.
Sodium saccharin is the salt form of saccharin, which is an artificial sweetener. Sodium saccharin has 300 times the sweetening power of sugar which explains why saccharin is such a popular sweetener. In the 1970s, conflicting studies performed on rats raised the possibility that sodium saccharin might be carcinogenic. This prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require that products made with saccharin include a warning label. Subsequent research in human and non-human primates showed that saccharin was safe for humans and in 2001 the FDA declared that saccharin was safe. It is added to toothpaste to enhance the taste and flavor.
FD&C Blue No. 1
FD&C Blue No. 1, also known as Brilliant Blue FCF ("for coloring food"), is a synthetic dye produced from petroleum. It is FDA-approved for use in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Brilliant Blue FCF has previously been banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland among others. Today it is certified as a safe food additive by the European Union and is legal in most countries. FD&C Blue No. 1 has the capacity for inducing an allergic reaction in individuals with pre-existing moderate asthma.
The FDA states that “FD&C Blue No. 1 may be safely used for coloring foods generally in amounts consistent with good manufacturing practices.” Whatever that means? Food dyes are added to several toothpaste brands to give them the cool minty blue color when you squeeze it out of the tube. It’s estimated that the average American consumes 16 mg of this dye a day.
D&C Yellow No. 10
The FDA states that D&C Yellow No. 10 may be safely used as a colorant. D&C Yellow No. 10 is approved for use in drugs and cosmetics but is not approved as a colorant for food. D&C Yellow No. 10 is often combined with FD&C Blue No. 1 to form a shade of green and this is its sole purpose as an ingredient in toothpaste.
What Do You Think Now?
Well that’s enough to make me reconsider putting toothpaste into my mouth again. I think it’s time to do some research on all natural toothpaste products.
If you do decide to continue using the major brands of toothpaste please read the labels. And, above all else, do not ingest toothpaste. Also, you may want to monitor your children while brushing their teeth and make sure that they absolutely do not swallow the toothpaste.
Typical Toothpaste Label
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Is toothpaste safe?
That is indeed a question that is up for debate. Many all-natural toothpaste brands do not use some of the questionable ingredients. Certainly, one should not ingest toothpaste, especially the big name brands that contain things like Triclosan and Sodium Flouride.Helpful 2
© 2012 Bill De Giulio