Is your toothpaste doing you and the planet harm?
For our third and final instalment in our Oral Care series, let's take a deep dive into Toothpaste itself. Toothpaste is a hum drum, benign piece of our lives which we use once or twice a day and really don't think about often, true? But when you think about it, the toothpaste we use is a big part of our health care routine!
Toothpaste occupies a nebulous space in the personal care world. You don't eat it, so it's not a food. And it's not (usually) prescribed by a doctor or dentist, so it doesn't fit in as a drug. For that reason, toothpaste escapes scrutiny even more so than most personal care products. So, since it is likely that there is no one ensuring you are using the safest made products, you need to arm yourself with the knowledge required to make these decisions on your own. After all, it is going in your mouth, where the membrane located under the tongue (the same route as used with sublingual tinctures) is one of the most efficient in the body when it comes to absorption.
But it goes way beyond that! There is concern not only about the toothpaste, but about the tubes it comes in. A great many are plastic and wind up in our landfills and oceans every year. They are incredibly difficult and confusing to recycle as well.
For what little we think about it, Toothpaste is a big part of our and our planets health. Hopefully, in this article, we can shed some light onto some of these topics and help you make more informed decisions about this consumer staple.
The Scope of the Problem
Think about it. How long does it take you to go through a tube of toothpaste? How long does it take for a family of four? What happens to these tubes when you are done with them?
"About 1 billion toothpaste tubes are sent to landfills every year. Toothpaste tubes are generally made of with aluminum or plastic. The process of converting raw bauxite (the source of aluminum that makes up 8 percent of the earth's crust) into aluminum is an energy-consuming one, requiring roughly 7.5 kilowatt hours for each pound of virgin aluminum. Plastic is not biodegradable, taking up to 700 years before beginning to decompose." (Holly Royce, 1MillionWomen.com)
Now, that's a lot of wasted toothpaste tubes! It's also a lot of toothpaste used. People who argue that there is not enough of any one harmful ingredient to pose a problem contained in these products. And to a certain point of view, maybe. One tube of toothpaste may be completely benign to you. However, the average person is using this item twice a day, every day of their lives. The proponents will not address cumulative exposure over a lifetime, nor do they want you to think of it in this way.
Our opinion is simple, if it has been proven to be harmful, or linked to harm, in ANY amount, you shouldn't put it into your body! Pencil lead is poisonous and harmful, true. And chewing on one pencil and accidentally swallowing one piece does not mutate or permanently harm your child (we believe). But if they did this every day of their school career, eventually it would add up over time, and there would be effects, true? Same principal. Lets take a brief look at some of these ingredients.
Toxic Chemicals Found in Toothpaste
Triclosan - You can find this chemical in so many different personal care products. It is a highly effective anti-bacterial agent which, when used in toothpaste, can help prevent gingivitis and gum disease. However, there are trade-offs. Triclosan has been shown to cause resistance to antibiotics and Endocrine System disruption. Endocrine disruption contributes to hormonal imbalances that lead to health issues such as certain cancers, irregular girls puberty, low birth weights, and testicular problems for boys.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - This chemical is a surfactant, which is responsible for the foaming action in toothpastes. Versions of these chemicals include SLS itself, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES), or Sodium Laureth Sulfate. It has been linked to possibly affecting our taste buds, by breaking lipids on our tongues. This is theorized to be the reason why things may taste bitter after brushing. It also has a relation to skin irritation and canker sores.
Artificial Sweeteners, Flavors, & Colors - Unlike with natural ingredients, artificial ingredients are engineered to simulate things which we sense. Our bodies generally do not possess the ability to process many of these materials. If they do not pass through the body, they may interact and form hazardous compounds that can affect the body. For example, the artificial sweetener Aspartame, through a series of chemical actions, forms Methanol that the body can not process. In the brain, Methanol forms formaldehyde and can damage brain tissues causing headaches, dizziness, nausea, vertigo, numbness, etc.
Fluoride - Fluoride is used in dentistry to help protect the enamel of teeth and prevent tooth decay. It's reputation in this is so great, that it is added to many other sources, such as public water supplies. The use of fluoride sporadically, as in brushing, may not cause long term harm. But, since many of us are drinking it daily, and children are likely to swallow it, fluoride can build up in tissue and becomes toxic in volume. It destroys enzymes and neurological and endocrine issues.
Propylene Glycol - A mineral oil which is used in many consumer products because it absorbs water, including paints, anti-freeze, and deicers. In toothpaste, it functions as a surfactant (like in #2, helps with the foaming action of the product). It can possibly cause eye, skin, and lung irritation, and is toxic to human organs.
Diethanolamine (DEA) - This chemical is a known hormone disruptor. It can react to form N-nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), a carcinogen. This chemical has scored 10 out of 10 as a toxic substance in cosmetics by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Microbeads - Essentially these are small (<5 microns) pieces of plastic designed to carry chemicals and other substances in the product. Being plastic, they do not bio-degrade and wind up being washed into the wastewater system, where they are too small to be filtered out, and ultimately end up in the groundwater supplies and oceans. There, they accumulate and infect the food supply, eventually finding there way into larger and larger animals, including humans, where they cause health problems.
Now Let's Look at some Sample Labels
Please Note, we are purposely leaving out the Brand Names, and some pictures have been enhanced to make them easier to read and remove identifying information.
XYZ Popular Brand, Cool Mint Flavor with "Whitening Breath Strips."