In the summer of 2007, there were various scares about toxic toothpaste infiltrating the market place in Britain, some of which could potentially do serious damage.
But what exactly is in the toothpaste we put in our mouths each day? Be prepared for some startling reading.
Toothpaste Is Easily Absorbed
While we all understand not to swallow toothpaste, it is still easily absorbed into our bodies via the thin skin of the mouth and tongue. Incredibly, unless a toothpaste product makes a direct medical claim (such as being able to reduce sensitivity in teeth), then you don’t have to have a license to make the stuff. This has resulted in some unregulated toothpaste products being sold to an unsuspecting public.
In July 2007, fake imports of Sensodyne toothpaste were found to contain toxic levels of a harmful chemical called diethylene glycol. Then only a month later, another brand, originally manufactured in China, was found in shops in Lancashire.
Diethylene glycol, found in anti-freeze products for cars, is a chemical often used as an inexpensive substitute for glycerine. However, if it’s swallowed, it can have extremely harmful effects. In 1995 and 1996, 85 children from Haiti died after taking paracetamol syrup containing the chemical. They suffered pancreatitis, renal failure, hepatitis, and neurological dysfunction which lead to coma and subsequent death.
Diethylene glycol has recently been found in toothpaste from India, China, Panama, Nicaragua, and Bangladesh and has worryingly found its way into Britain on more than one occasion.
So what else is in our toothpaste? Here we give you the low-down of common ingredients.
The debate over fluoride has continued unabated for years. On one side, there are those who believe that adding it to our water and toothpaste helps prevent tooth decay and that in small amounts, it does not pose any health concerns, whilst on the other are those who believe it to be a toxic drug which should be avoided at all costs.
Opinion is very much divided. Whereas in the UK, fluoride is promoted as an aid to healthy teeth, America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) legislates that a label be added to the back of all toothpaste packets warning of its toxicity and to seek professional advice should it be accidentally swallowed.
While much disputed, one report links the consumption of fluoride to osteoporosis and over-consumption can certainly lead to fluoride poisoning causing nausea and diarrhoea or fluorosis, the symptoms of which are yellowing of the teeth, particularly in children.
This substance is an abrasive stain remover which can weaken tooth enamel and may possibly cause gum damage if able to collect under the gum. Silica has also been associated in some quarters with Crohn’s disease.
Also found in oven cleaners and drain clearers, sodium hydroxide is a bleaching agent which is harsh for the skin and can cause irritation.
Parabens of various descriptions are used in toothpastes as a preservative. However they are known endocrine disrupters which have been linked to testicular and breast cancers.
Contrary to what you might expect, sweeteners such as sorbitol, aspartame, and saccharin are added to many toothpastes. However high levels of sorbitol cause cramping and it can also act as a laxative. This is particularly worrying when you consider that the sweeter, gel-type toothpastes, add up to seventy percent sorbitol.
The USA requires food labels to advertise the presence of saccharin in a product as a potential carcinogen. No such declaration is required in the UK even though saccharin may be carcinogenic to humans and is thought to be a possible cause of cancer of the bladder in animals.
Triclosan is a chlorinated antibacterial agent which is added to toothpastes to help kill moulds, yeasts, and bacteria and keep your mouth ‘fresh’. Although the amount legally able to be added to products is restricted, triclosan falls into the category of chlorophenols, a family of chemicals which act as carcinogens in animals.
Some colours, such as CI42090, which is used for blue toothpastes, are banned in many northern European countries as there is high speculation that it can cause skin rashes and hyperactivity. Other colours such as the coal-tar dye for yellow, referred to as CI 47005, is banned in Norway, Australia, and America, and has been labelled as an asthma trigger, hyperactivity trigger and may include carcinogenic properties.
If you are worried about your toothpaste, check the ingredients, and stick to brands which use tested, harmless organic alternatives.