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Nothing to Smile About: Toxic Ingredients in Toothpaste

Toothpaste

By Arwa Lodhi

Our dentists usually recommend mainstream toothpastes, even though they may be full of chemicals.  But that practice may stop after a new, worrying report that suggests the chemical triclosan is linked to cancer. The news has put many people – including, we hope, dentists – off Colgate Total toothpaste forever. Unfortunately, triclosan is far from the only dangerous chemical lurking in a product most of us use 2-3 times a day, every day.

For anyone who cares about their teeth as well as their overall health, here’s what you need to know about the toxic ingredients in toothpaste, and how to avoid them from now on.

Colgate’s Total Fail

Colgate created Total toothpaste to help reduce bleeding gums and improve gum health. Although the company claims the Food and Drug Administration approved the toothpaste in 1997 approval as an over-the-counter drug, a closer look at that application process reveals that some of the scientific findings Colgate put forward to establish triclosan’s safety in toothpaste weren’t completely rigorous, and there were no independent studies done.

When independent studies were done, triclosan has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system of animals, throwing off their hormone functions and possibly leading to cancer. Given that humans are exposed to many chemicals every day that interact in the body, it is very difficult to link one substance to one disease. But of  the 800 to 1,000 chemicals which are believed to disrupt the endocrine system, triclosan is 1 of around 10 that people are regularly exposed to, and which can be easily avoided.

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Image: Colgate.com

Colgate’s own study showed fetal bone malformations in mice and rats, but the company said the findings “weren’t relevant”, even though such deformations indicate possible endocrine disruption. Triclosan has been used in soap, handwashes and hand sanitisers, but concerns about the chemicals have led several companies, including Avon, Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline to ban it from their products.

But the European Union has banned the chemical in anything that could come into contact with food since 2010, and the EPA in America began a review of triclosan due to growing fears it could be linked to thyroid disease and cancer. 

Colgate applied four times for FDA approval before it was granted five years after their first attempt. In a statement at the time, Colgate called Total “the most significant advancement in home dental care since the introduction of fluoride.” Which brings us to another point.

Fluoride Fears

Usually imported from China, fluoride is a toxic industrial waste product and often comes loaded with traces of lead, arsenic, radionucleotides, aluminum and other industrial contaminants. In many countries, including North America and Canada, fluoride is added to water to help prevent tooth decay. However, many studies show that even small amounts of fluoride lowers IQ–no wonder not even the Chinese put fluoride in their water!

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You know how on the side of many toothpaste packets it says to call poison control if the product is ‘ingested’? According to Dr Mercola, this warning assumes a quarter milligram of fluoride from toothpaste was swallowed. However, in many states and provinces, a single glass of water can contain this amount of fluoride, and to remain in the ‘safe’ limits for the chemical, you would have to use so little fluoridated toothpaste, one tube would last one person several years.

Fluoride is especially dangerous because it accumulates in the body. Healthy adult kidneys excrete 50 to 60% of the fluoride ingested each day, but the remaining fluoride accumulates in the body, usually in the bones and pineal gland. An estimated 80% of fluoride can accumulate in children’s bodies, which is why many youngsters in North America have suffered from dental fluorosis (mottling of the tooth enamel). Early exposure to fluoride can also bring early onset of puberty.

Crest-Toothpaste

But fluoride also negatively impacts thyroid function. One study found that otherwise healthy people suffered a lowering of thyroid function at 2.3 ppm fluoride in water. Indeed, during the mid-20th century, doctors used to give hyperthyroid patients fluoride to reduce thyroid activity–and only 2.3-4.5 mg per day was needed to do this. To put this in perspective, the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that the total fluoride exposure for those living in fluoridated areas is about 1.6-6.6 mg per day. No wonder one of the fastest increasing health problems in the USA and Canada is hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

SLS: In Shampoo, and in Your Mouth

One final ingredient to be avoided in toothpaste has to be sodium laurel and laureth sulphates (SLS). These two foaming agents are commonly found in bubble bath, shampoo, soap–and toothpaste. They have no cleaning benefits, but bubble up nicely and make consumers think they’re helping to clean their bodies, hair and teeth as a result.

But the downside of these chemicals is hardly worth the bubbles. SLS can cause irritation in the mouth and canker sores, and if ingested, it can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, liver damage, and even cancer.

So What to Do?

By now, it’s become pretty clear that conventional toothpastes are far from safe, no matter how careful you are. The three ingredients mentioned above are unquestionably toxic, and worst of all—they are completely unnecessary for good dental hygiene. Plenty of natural alternatives to toxic toothpastes exist to keep your smile sparkling!

To see a good list, click here.



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