Toxic Toothpaste and Scary Mouthwash!
At the end of the last post, I said I was ready to take on gum disease and start fighting back. So with that in mind, I reread the labels on commonly used toothpaste and mouthwash bottles, and they reinforced my belief that these would not be my weapons of choice for serious health problems. I’ve seen the damage these toxic products can do—the burning red mouths, the cheek tissue sloughing off in sheets, the tongues so red and swollen the patients could barely speak, much less swallow—and I don’t like it. All that these affected people had done was use the same toothpaste and mouthwashes you are probably using right now, so-called therapeutic products, which end up being pathological for some. In this post, I intend to tackle these products and give you some insight into why there’s so much disease out there, including cancer and death, from using these off-the-shelf oral health products.
As you study all the warnings and facts concerning the harmful ingredients in the oral health products some people are hurting themselves with every day, please realize that the prevailing idea generally promoted by sales reps is, while a small amount of toxic stuff is in the products they proffer, there’s not very much, so it’s not a big deal. Imagine my telling a mother there’s a rattlesnake in the petting zoo, but it’s just a little one.
Most people select a specific toothpaste or mouthwash for their own particular reasons, perhaps for its color or taste. Maybe they saw an advertisement for a product and thought they might try it based on something mentioned in the ad. Why do you use the toothpaste and mouthwash that’s in your cabinet? Could it be that there are some very compelling ads for toothpaste and mouthwashes that purport to provide the user with all sorts of benefits, from fewer cavities to fresher breath and removing more plaque than brushing by itself can accomplish? Only you know why you use what you use.
From my perspective as a dentist, for someone to have a reasonable chance of creating a healthier mouth with their home-care efforts, it would clearly be to their advantage to use products that have known health-enhancing benefits. Since the odds are great that they already have some condition they’d like to heal and not aggravate further, it would also make sense to avoid any toothpaste or mouthwash containing substances known to be clearly harmful.
Using safe products also makes sense because oral soft tissues are literally a sponge just waiting to absorb into the body whatever comes in contact with the lips, cheeks, tongue, and throat. Anyone who has ever eaten a hot pepper has experienced just how fast the burning sensation comes on, and how hard it is to get rid of once it has established itself. These hot foods announce themselves so you are aware of what you are doing, but what about substances that are harmful and get absorbed through the oral tissues so quietly that there’s no pain? What can be done about those?
In trying to answer this question, let’s first review the warnings on a few different pastes and washes, given below, to get an idea just how toxic this situation is. (This list could be a lot longer since dozens of products contain essentially the same toxic ingredients.)
- Mouthwash. Warning: Keep out of the reach of children. Do not use in children under six years of age. In case of accidental misuse, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately. Do not swallow.
- Mouthwash. This package for households without young children.
- Toothpaste. Do not swallow. Instruct children under six years in good rinsing habits (to reduce swallowing). Supervise children as necessary until capable of using without supervision. Rinse away toothpaste residue after brushing.
- Toothpaste. Warning: Use a pea-sized amount and supervise until good habits are established.
- Toothpaste. Warning: Keep out of reach of children under six years of age (in bold type on a box). If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help right away or contact a poison control center right away. If irritation occurs and persists, discontinue use.
Now, how do we determine if one of our children has swallowed a bit of this swill? If it’s in the throat, it could be on its way to the stomach, so do we need to have the poison control centers number at the ready just in case they end up swallowing some? Can’t say we weren’t warned, can we? The challenge with toothpaste and mouthwashes is to find one without these types of warnings.
THE NINE UNTOUCHABLES
While people are free to use what they want, I believe it’s a good idea for everyone to know what’s in the products we’re using for our oral health. Please read the labels on your toothpaste and mouthwash, and see if any of the following ingredients appear. (Warning: I lose my good nature when I ponder products with the following ingredients in them since none of them are safe to use.)
Triclosan is EPA-registered as a pesticide. This chlorophenol gets high marks as a risk to both humans and the environment. It is in a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans and is similar in structure to dioxin, whose toxic effects are measured in parts per trillion (1 drop in 300 Olympic-size swimming pools). Triclosan is a hormone disrupter as well and can lead to circulatory collapse, cold sweats, and convulsions. Because it is stored in body fat, it can accumulate to toxic levels, which can lead to a number of problems, including brain hemorrhages, heart conditions, kidney damage, and paralysis. Since the oral soft tissues readily absorb whatever is in contact with them (remember the hot pepper), building up triclosan residues in the body could be easily accomplished. Triclosan in your toothpaste anyone?
Propylene Glycol (PG)
Your Chevrolet recognizes propylene glycol as antifreeze, and you probably know that antifreeze has killed many cats and dogs that have lapped it up. PG is used as a wetting agent in toothpaste, but it is so readily absorbed into the skin that the EPA requires anyone working around it to wear goggles and protective clothing. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns against skin contact because PG has systemic consequences, such as the brain, kidney, and liver abnormalities. However, no such warning is required on underarm deodorants, toothpaste, or other products containing PG. Does the use of PG in toothpaste, for use in an area where it’s readily absorbed, seem logical to you?
Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH)
In high concentration, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), an extremely alkaline substance, destroys protein instantly. In the mouth, it dissolves oral soft tissues, imparting a slick feeling. Dissolving off the protein with NaOH is not the way I want my patients to get clean teeth; dissolving delicate oral tissues isn’t going to help them be a better, more competent barrier, is it?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a ubiquitous detergent and surfactant, which is also used in car washes, engine degreasers, and garage floor cleaners, poses a serious health risk because, like NaOH, it dissolves proteins. Animals exposed to SLS experience diarrhea, eye damage, labored breathing, skin irritation, and even death. When combined with other chemicals, SLS can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens. The body retains SLS for up to five days, during which time it may enter and maintain residual levels in the brain, liver, heart, and lungs.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
A toxic substance and the close relative of SLS, sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is known to have similar harmful effects and is also common in many products used in this country. Both SLES and SLS are used in toothpaste, to make it foam. Given the health risks associated with each of them, do we really need these chemicals just for foam?
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is used in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease, and in personal products as a thickener. PEG is a potentially carcinogenic substance that, when used on the skin, alters its natural moisture factor, leaving the skin vulnerable to aging and invasion by harmful bacteria. PEG has no logical therapeutic benefit in toothpaste, but it is in quite a number of them.
Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)
SD-40, an alcohol found in a number of toothpaste, is very dehydrating and acts as a carrier, facilitating the entry of other harmful chemicals into your oral soft tissues. On the skin, it promotes premature aging and brown spots. A fatal ingested dose is one ounce or less, and according to A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, it may cause dizziness, flushing, headaches, mental depression, narcosis, nausea, vomiting, and even coma. As with all the other harmful substances listed, I don’t know why SD-40, with its potentially harmful effects, is a common ingredient in toothpaste.
FD&C Color Pigments
FD&C color pigments (Red No. 40, Green No. 5, Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 10, Red No. 30 Lake, Yellow No. 10 lake) are all synthetic colors made from coal tar, and animal studies have shown almost all of them to be carcinogenic. Many of these colors contain heavy metal salts, which can accumulate in the body and cause serious health problems. Do toothpaste and mouthwashes really need to be red, blue, green, and yellow? Those coal-tar-derived colors may look nice, but at what cost to the user’s health?
Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol)
Ethanol is the primary component in the majority of mouthwashes, and it has an extraordinary ability to draw moisture out of living cells, noticeably dehydrating tissues. With alcohol contents of nearly 27 percent (54 proof), alcohol-based mouthwashes are known to be a cause of oral cancer for approximately 36,000 users a year (only smokers are more at risk for this form of cancer), and there were approximately 500 deaths in the year 2000 from this form of alcohol ingestion. Of all the ingredients in oral health products, alcohol may be the most harmful. Besides dehydration and the oral cancer risks associated with it, studies show that alcohol dissolves cosmetic fillings. University studies of twelve types of mouthwash showed that nine of them degraded or deteriorated cosmetic bonding or cosmetic filling materials. Two of the three that did not harm composites were an alcohol-free mouthwash and a mild alcohol-containing mouthwash. They did not degrade the four tooth-colored filling materials tested (water was used as a control), and the harm to the filling materials was generally proportional to the alcohol content of the mouthwash. With all the known problems and safety issues associated with alcohol-based mouthwashes, common sense dictates that they are avoided, if for no other reason than because they damage excellent (and expensive) cosmetic dentistry.
THE BEST ALTERNATIVES
Now for solutions to the problems posed by harmful oral health products. My first recommendation is to read toothpaste and mouthwash labels to ensure there are no harmful ingredients in them. There are safe and effective toothpaste and mouthwashes available that offer substantial benefits. While there may be a few commonly available brands I have not used myself, or evaluated in my patients who may have used them, there are a few products I have used extensively, and I recommend them without hesitation. Products can be manufactured from all-natural ingredients, or from synthetic compounds that offer the desired effects. I use and recommend both types of patients every day because I know they are safe and they most definitely work.
The toothpaste and mouthwash I like for myself and have evaluated in hundreds of patients are BGSE Mint Toothpaste and BGSE Mint Mouthwash Treatment. BGSE is an abbreviation for BioEnhanced Grapefruit Seed Extract, and while grapefruit seed extract is just one of the ingredients, this bioflavonoid offers astonishing oral health benefits. It is an excellent cleanser and is capable of inhibiting a wide variety of microorganisms with no toxicity to the user. I want this product, or similar products containing grapefruit seed extract, to stay in contact with my patients’ oral soft tissues. Other natural ingredients in the toothpaste include hesperidin, a bioflavonoid required for collagen (the building block of soft tissue, bone, and cartilage) formation, the antioxidants cranberry and willowherb, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), which is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. As if that weren’t enough, green tea, a very potent antioxidant, is also included. While the product manufacturer can’t make specific health claims for either the toothpaste or the mouthwash, these products have worked quickly, safely, and effectively for my patients and my family. As with any product or food, there can always be people who exhibit some sensitivity to an ingredient, although I have never seen any of my patients have a problem with either—only beneficial results when they are used properly, and often enough.
It is important to mention that BGSE Mint Mouthwash Treatment and BGSE Mint Toothpaste are not only made from all-natural ingredients but are also totally organic. Neither have microbiological or chemical contaminants, just pure ingredients, so their potential benefit to the user, as well as their total lack of toxic ingredients, represents a considerable departure from the products most people use now. There are literally hundreds of toothpaste and mouthwashes to choose from, and a few of them really are worth using. I have reviewed the ingredients of quite a number of natural toothpaste and mouthwashes, and I am very happy to report that many of them not only did not contain ingredients to avoid (the untouchables), but they did contain ingredients that tell me these companies mean business when it comes to doing something about promoting oral health with their products. Many of the natural toothpaste and mouthwashes I reviewed contained potentially beneficial ingredients such as tea tree oil, aloe vera, CoQ10, Ester C, green tea, chamomile, myrrh, and echinacea, and no harmful ingredients. Jason and Tom’s of Maine are two companies offering some products I could very enthusiastically support, and there are many other formulations by literally hundreds of companies that could very well be quite safe and effective. Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself what’s best for you, and I hope the information I’ve provided will help you find something you like that also happens to be safe and effective.
You are most likely to find the products you want at either the smaller health food or nutrition stores or order online and have them delivered to your home. Most of the bigger food stores and drugstores don’t have much to choose from that isn’t loaded with untouchables, but I expect them to begin offering better products when consumer preferences indicate that the availability of safe and effective products is expected.
An additional mouthwash I have used for several years and have recommended to patients is a synthetic formulation that is totally safe, alcohol-free, and very effective for cleansing and deodorizing the mouth. Oxyfresh Fresh Mint Mouthrinse with Zinc is a stabilized chlorine dioxide, zinc acetate formulation that literally destroys the odors responsible for bad breath. Research has shown that these odors, specifically volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), are at least partially responsible for activating enzymes that dissolve soft tissue (proteolytic enzymes), so whether this product is used as a mouthwash or as an addition to the water used in oral irrigators, it isn’t unusual to observe amazing improvements in oral health. (You might recognize from other sources two VSCs found in the mouth: the sewer gas odor comes from methyl mercaptan, and the rotten egg smell comes from hydrogen sulfide.)
The Oxyfresh company claims only cleansing and deodorizing benefits for this mouthwash, so any other benefits discussed here are based on my clinical observation. Ultimately, fighting gum disease and its systemic consequences is a battle best left to products that will do the Job, and while the product lines I’ve mentioned don’t make health claims, as a dentist, my experience observing the results of their use leads me to recommend them.
There is a small but growing, consumer movement away from harmful products, and toward robust oral health. I hope this movement accelerates considerably in the near future because it is the only option that makes good sense. When enough consumers blatantly reject harmful toothpaste and mouthwashes in favor of safe, effective ones, we could see a shift in what the manufacturers of these products have to offer. Meanwhile, the products mentioned above are available and work well, so leave the least toxic toothpaste and scary mouthwashes, the untouchables, on the shelf and find something that supports health rather than compromises it. You can find information on how to acquire these products, as well as thorough instructions for their use feel free to “Contact Us“.
For additional information on the untouchables in personal-care products, go to the expert Linda Chae. A gentle person, Linda is a major force in the movement to get rid of the untouchables in personal and household products. She has decades of experience in formulating alternative, safe, personal-care products, and has even testified at congressional hearings concerning the harmful ingredients most commercial products contain.
Since almost anything goes right now when it comes to most commercially available product formulations, and I’m not just referring to toothpaste and mouthwashes, I take great care to use safe products myself. I encourage you to do the same, since daily internal and external use of products containing known harmful ingredients carries some health risk, and our goal, after all, is to improve your health.