When we brush our teeth, it makes us feel healthy and clean, like we’re taking good care of our body. But what if we told you that there are chemicals in toothpaste to avoid? These toxic toothpaste ingredients (and other dental care ingredients) could be doing more harm than good.
Let’s be clear—we are not trying to scare you. One good thing that has come from the dialogue about toothpaste toxicity is the overall banning of triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal that reduces plaque and gingivitis. According to Consumer Reports, triclosan was banned from hand soaps and body washes and was discontinued from many tubes of toothpaste in 2017 after research found triclosan to be a thyroid hormone disruptor that contributed to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increased risk of cancer. Yikes!
Now that we don’t have to worry about triclosan anymore, it’s time to take a magnifying glass to the rest of the traditional dental care product’s ingredients. Are there any other harmful chemicals in toothpaste to avoid? Are there toxic ingredients in mouthwash and floss, too? And most importantly, how do you avoid toxic toothpaste and dental care ingredients going forward?
Keep reading for 15 toxic toothpaste ingredients to avoid and answers to your toothpaste questions!
How toxic is toothpaste?
For something that 69 percent of people put in their mouth at least twice a day, toothpaste is surprisingly toxic. While traditional toothpaste is effective at removing and preventing plaque build-up, preventing cavities, and fighting gum inflammation, a lot of its ingredients are not safe.
The most common reason parents call Poison Control is because their child has swallowed (or intentionally eaten) toothpaste. Eating toothpaste that contains the ingredient fluoride can result in diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other low-grade gastrointestinal symptoms.
Toothpaste isn’t so toxic that swallowing a little bit accidentally while brushing will kill you. Most traditional toothpaste is made with such small concentrations of fluoride and other chemicals that you won’t experience any disconcerting symptoms immediately. However, if you say, ate or swallowed an entire tube of toothpaste, you could experience abdominal pain, intestinal blockages, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, convulsions, shocks, and tremors, weakness, vomiting, and even a heart attack. If this happens, contact Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222.
While most of us won’t swallow an entire tube of paste, toxins in toothpaste can still cause irritation to the mouth over time and since the mouth significantly affects the rest of the body’s overall health (look up the mouth-body connection – it’s a real thing), poor oral hygiene and health can lead to other health issues. These include bacterial pneumonia, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), osteoporosis, prostate cancer, and unexplained weight gain.
Toxins in toothpaste (and other oral care products)
Alcohol is used in mouthwash because of its antibacterial properties, but this ingredient does have many well-known health concerns. In fact, alcohol may be antibacterial, but it doesn’t know the difference between the stuff that’s good and the stuff that’s bad. It works by just getting rid of all bacteria, and that’s not exactly ideal for your body’s ecosystem.
In addition to alcohol killing off good bacteria, a study published in the National Library of Medicine found that alcohol can cause the development of oral cancer as alcohol itself is a carcinogen.
Alcohol is also very drying for the mouth; if used regularly, you may notice the development of dry mouth syndrome. This can present itself as an increased risk of plaque and gum disease, mouth sores, a mouth yeast infection known as thrush, split skin in the corners of the mouth, and cracked lips.
Titanium dioxide is one such artificial colorant meant to make toothpaste more visually pleasing, but it’s certainly not the only one. Artificial coloring isn’t always safe and has been linked to hyperactivity and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. According to a 2012 study from Neurotherapeutics, artificial coloring has a direct link with overactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness in children.
No one likes a toothpaste that tastes bad. That’s why most traditional toothpaste companies make use of artificial sweeteners. Some of these may include sorbitol, saccharin, and xylitol. While xylitol is safe for humans (but not safe for pets!), sorbitol and saccharin are seen as problematic ingredients.
There’s more on saccharin down below (highlights include a link to bladder cancer, brain tumors, and lymphoma), but sorbitol is a liquid artificial sweetener that keeps toothpaste from getting dry and crusty. But it’s also a laxative and if ingested by children, can result in diarrhea.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that adds flavor to toothpaste, beverages, and other oral care products. However, this sweetener has come under fire for its carcinogenicity, meaning its ability to cause cancer.
When ingested, aspartame’s chemicals break down and some of them break down into methanol, which is a type of alcohol. Since our bodies cannot digest this compound, our body overcompensates by converting it into formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, memory loss, gastrointestinal issues, and so much more.
You may also find carrageenan in your processed coffee, milk, and other foods. That’s because it’s an additive that is used as a thickening agent.
Carrageenan can cause inflammatory skin conditions like acne, intestinal issues, colon ulcerations, and cancer. While there is a food-grade version of carrageenan and an alternative degraded form, which is the known carcinogen form, it’s best to stay away from carrageenan in both your food and your dental care products.
Cocamidopropyl betaine is an emulsifier and thickener that may cause sensitization upon skin contact and is thought to be an eco-toxin, which is a substance that is a known toxin to the environment.
While cocamidopropyl betaine is generally considered safe, you may want to refrain from using this ingredient because of how harmful it is to the environment.
Added to toothpaste to create a greater foaming effect, diethanolamine (DEA) is a hormone disrupter. In fact, the EWG rates it a 10, citing it as an irritant, human respiratory toxin, and carcinogen. DEA is also banned in Canada cosmetics, which begs the question of why the U.S. has not done the same.
Fluoride is heralded for its cavity and tooth decay prevention properties. While a small amount of fluoride can aid in healthier and stronger teeth and gums, fluoride is a chemical additive that comes with an acute toxicity warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Fluoride poisoning can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal symptoms, and for this reason, should be avoided.
Furthermore, fluoride is also celebrated for its ability to remineralize teeth, however traditional toothpaste does not contain nearly enough fluoride for users to actually reap the benefits of remineralization.
Parabens are preservatives that keep toothpaste fresher for longer, meaning that they can sit on the shelves longer without expiring. But while that’s good for a store’s (and a company’s) bottom line, it does not necessarily denote the healthiest option for us.
More research is needed on the side effects of paraben exposure, but they are thought to increase the risk of breast cancer and other health complications. Parabens may also bio-accumulate in the body, which means they build-up inside our body faster than our body can get rid of them.
Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
Toothpaste is not the only dental care product with toxic ingredients. In 2019, Harvard reported that ingredients associated with certain dental floss brands could cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The study from Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology found that women who flossed regularly with Oral-B Glide floss had been exposed to high levels of perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS). PFHxS is a part of a larger class of chemicals known as PFAS, chemicals that cause liver damage, environmental damage, cancer, and developmental issues.
The ingredient in question is actually fluorine, which according to Harvard, “indicates the presence of PFAS compounds.”
Propylene glycol is a synthetic chemical that could be used as a detergent, emulsifier, or foaming agent. Not to get too science-y, but its primary job is to decrease the surface tension between two liquids, a liquid and solid, or a gas and liquid.
Animal studies have shown propylene glycol to be a long-term toxic ingredient that should be entirely avoided, especially in children. And as if you needed more of a reason to steer clear, propylene glycol is used in antifreeze.
Saccharin (Sodium saccharin)
Saccharin – or sodium saccharin – is another type of artificial sweetener that is added to toothpaste to make it taste better. This chemical has been identified as a carcinogen in a study done on rats and mice, whose risk of bladder cancer increased when given saccharin. Exposure to saccharin also resulted in the development of brain tumors and lymphoma in mice and rats.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
Sodium lauryl sulfate, abbreviated as SLS, also lives a double life as a popular insecticide, so the same ingredient you’re putting in your mouth to promote oral health can kill insects. Yuck!
Also used as a detergent, SLS causes microscopic tears in the mouth, which can eventually lead to canker sores and other irritations and inflammation. It also strips the mouth of its natural lining, weakening it.
So, why is it popularly used in toothpaste? Well, it makes toothpaste foam up. Again, totally not worth the risk.
SLS might be lurking in your oral care products under a shady pseudonym. Look for these alternative names: A13-00356, Akyposal SDS, Aquarex methyl, Monododecyl ester, Monododecyl ester sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sulfuric acid monododecyl ester sodium salt and sulfuric acid.
Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)
Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is an inorganic chemical compound that is widely used in toothpaste because it adds toothpaste’s signature white color.
Aside from this colorant not providing any oral benefits whatsoever (it’s literally only added to give it color), titanium dioxide is only safe when it is not absorbed. While we don’t swallow toothpaste and therefore swallow titanium dioxide, the membranes inside our mouths may very well absorb concentrations of titanium dioxide. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there is a concern that titanium dioxide may be a carcinogen that could also present non-reproductive organ system toxicity, which just means it negatively affects the body’s nonreproductive organs.
Triclosan was effectively banned from hand soaps and body washes in 2017 and for the most part, has been discontinued in toothpaste. This antibacterial and antifungal was used in toothpaste because it widely reduces plaque and the gum inflammation associated with gingivitis. However, you still might find it around, so be careful when reading oral care labels.
Triclosan disrupts the hormones in the thyroid, causes cancer, and creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Is fluoride toxic in toothpaste?
Fluoride is added to most traditional toothpaste, mouthwashes, and dental care supplements due to this chemical’s ability to decrease the risk of cavities and tooth decay. While research has shown that a small amount of fluoride can contribute to stronger and healthier teeth and gums, many believe this toothpaste toxin is simply not worth the risk.
Fluoride ingestion can ultimately lead to poisoning, depending on the amount, leaving our smallest teeth-brushers the most vulnerable. (It takes much less fluoride to negatively affect a child than it would an adult.) In fact, 80 percent of fluoride poisoning cases were reported in children under age six.
The acute toxic effects of fluoride poisoning can do harm. Acute effects include nausea and vomiting, hypocalcemia, tetany of the hands and feet, hypersalivation, hypotension, failure of the renal and respiratory systems, and coma and convulsions that can lead to death. The chronic effects include dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, gastric irritation, numbness, and muscular spasms, birth defects, cancer, and an insufficient renal system.
In short, it’s best to avoid fluoride altogether and choose a fluoride-free option.
Is hydrogen peroxide toxic in toothpaste?
While most toothpaste brands and organizations concur that the small concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that occur in toothpaste and other dental care products are safe to use, hydrogen peroxide in oral care should probably be avoided.
While it has been found to be an effective teeth whitener, some research also suggests that hydrogen peroxide deeply penetrates a tooth’s enamel. This bleaching can harm the surface of your tooth, weakening it. A weakened tooth surface could potentially result in loss of minerals and more of susceptibility to visible scratches and dents in the weakened enamel.
But that’s not all – hydrogen peroxide in toothpaste and oral care products passes through the enamel and into the tooth’s dentin and pulp where it can cause minor inflammations. These inflammations can cause you to feel a heightened sensitivity in your teeth.
Again, you may just want to stay away from hydrogen peroxide in toothpaste and dental care products altogether.
What’s in Huppy tooth tablets?
Huppy toothpaste tablets use the best ingredients that are both safe and sustainably sourced. Our toothpaste tablets never use ingredients that have been linked to carcinogens, known irritants, or ingredients banned by health organizations. In our tablets, you will never find sulfates (SLS), triclosan, diethanolamine, parabens, artificial dyes, propylene glycol, carrageenan, saccharin, and titanium oxide.
Rather, here’s what you will find in Huppy toothpaste tablets:
- Nano-Hydroxyapitite that is shown to work better than fluoride in remineralization
- Bentonite clay made from volcanic ash and minerals from Nevada
- Coconut-based foams from the U.S.
- Coconut oil sustainably harvested from Thailand
- Essential oils and coconut oils sustainably harvested from their native countries
- Sodium Bicarbonate, an underground soda ash dissolved into crystals without chemicals from Colorado
- Peppermint oil that comes from farm-grown mint in the U.S.
- Xylitol, a natural sweetener made from birch trees in Finland (*Not safe for pets!)
Many toxic toothpaste ingredients can cause cancer, irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs, and negatively impact development. Instead of reaching for a traditional toothpaste, avoid those toothpaste chemicals and brush your teeth with something that’s safe, sustainable, and good for you—Huppy!