In recent years, we as consumers have begun to prioritize what we put into our bodies. We have become grocery store gurus, looking for items labeled with terms like “all natural,” “certified organic,” or “NON-GMO.” But it seems like, when it comes to toothpaste, we often look for the term “whitening,” grab a tube and move on down the shopping list.
If this sounds familiar, there is more your tube of toothpaste has to say. Specifically, warning you that accidentally swallowing more than should be used for brushing could mean trouble.
Now, you are likely not reading this because your toothpaste frequents your lunchbox. (At least, we hope not.) But perhaps you parent a small child, or you are just curious as to what would happen if toothpaste were accidentally ingested.
Read on and we will fill you in on the possible effects of swallowing toothpaste.
What happens if you swallow toothpaste?
Any toothpaste worth using should contain fluoride. That’s because fluoride is the active ingredient that works hardest to protect your teeth against cavities and tooth decay.
Although fluoride is a natural mineral that can be found in drinking water and even certain foods, the amount needed to make your toothpaste work its magic on your enamel can be harmful if swallowed in excess. Here are possible effects of long term toothpaste ingestion.
Fluoride poisoning tends to occur from a single occurrence of fluoride consumption in very large quantities. Symptoms of fluoride poisoning may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Tremors or uncontrollable shaking
- A salty or soapy taste in the mouth
- Weakness or fatigue
- Excessive salivation or drooling
- Slow or irregular heartbeat which can lead to cardiac arrest in severe cases
- Shallow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
As harsh as the term may sound, dental fluorosis is fortunately not a disease and it will not affect the health of your teeth. Rather, the term refers to the subtle white markings on the surface of teeth, generally caused by the ingestion of too much fluoride during childhood years.
These markings only develop on the teeth that have not yet broken through the gums. Teeth that have grown through the gums cannot develop dental fluorosis.
Because children are more likely to swallow toothpaste, and fluorosis generally occurs in children younger than 8 years old, it is always recommended that teeth brushing be monitored to ensure that swallowing does not occur.
Additionally, you can follow this easy guide to ensure you are using the correct amount of toothpaste at different ages:
- Younger than 2: Use a small smear, roughly the size of a grain of rice.
- 2 to 6 years old: Use slightly less than a pea-sized amount
- 6 years through adulthood: Use a pea-sized amount
While dental fluorosis is not dangerous to your health, the discoloration of your enamel is irreversible, so it is best to protect against it by making sure not to ingest too much toothpaste.
Beyond the visible damage that excessive fluoride consumption can cause to your enamel, it can also lead to skeletal fluorosis, a bone disease that can be painful and damaging to your bones and joints.
With skeletal fluorosis, your bones undergo a hardening process, also becoming less elastic. This can increase your risk of fractured bones. The over-accumulation of bone tissue often caused by skeletal fluorosis may also lead to issues with joining mobility.
Another possible outcome of excessive fluoride exposure is damage to your parathyroid gland, which can lead to hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism means that your thyroid is underproducing certain vital hormones. A few common symptoms of this disease are fatigue and hair loss.
Hypothyroidism can also lead to bone issues, as calcium depletion may cause bones to become more brittle and easily broken or fractured.
Some children whose mothers consume high levels of fluoride while they are still in the womb have been known to experience cognitive issues later in childhood. This is shown as higher levels of fluoride exposure have been linked with lower scores on IQ tests.
Other Health Consequences
Apart from the issues listed above, excessive ingestion of fluoride can result in the following health concerns:
- Early puberty, infertility as well as other possible reproductive issues
- Acne breakouts and other skin issues
- High blood pressure, arteriosclerosis or calcification, cardiac insufficiency, myocardial damage, and even heart failure
- Osteoarthritis, bone cancer, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
Where else is fluoride found?
Your favorite everyday toothpaste isn’t the only product containing fluoride. In fact, many times, overly high consumption of fluoride does not come from toothpaste.
Here are a few other fluoride-filled foods and beverages you may already be consuming regularly.
While tea drinking is regarded as a healthy practice, especially sans sweetener, black teas can contain high levels of fluoride. Tea drinkers, do not fret -- if you have a few cups of tea each day, you should not be ingesting too much fluoride. But if you drink more than 4 cups each day, you may want to cut back.
In the early 20th century, higher levels of naturally occurring fluoride were detected in the drinking water of certain communities. With this discovery came a link to lower levels of tooth decay in those communities.
With this knowledge in mind, many other water suppliers began to add fluoride to their tap water. Though drinking too much fluoride can be harmful, water suppliers are constantly testing and adjusting levels to ensure a healthy amount.
Fluoride poisoning, however, is not likely to occur from drinking tap water. This would only be a concern if the water was accidentally contaminated by an industrial fire or explosion, for example.
Some other beverages containing fluoride are:
- Grape juice
- Fruit-flavored water with sweeteners
Cooked potatoes are naturally rich in fluoride and the levels may increase depending on preparation. For example, potatoes that have been baked or prepared as hash browns contain 2 times as much fluoride as a french fried potato.
Of the many super ingredients found in spinach, fluoride is among them. Like potatoes, spinach that is cooked (especially in water containing fluoride) is known to have higher levels of fluoride.
While raw grapes contain naturally occurring fluoride, the levels are not as high as are found in raisins, which can have 20 times as much fluoride. Red wine also contains fluoride, and twice the amount of concentration can be found in white wine.
Some other foods naturally containing fluoride are:
- Blue crab
- Cooked oatmeal
- Chocolate almond milk
- Light beer
- White rice
Should I stop using fluoride toothpaste?
The answer to this question is a quick and easy NO.
Unless specifically directed by a medical or dental professional, you should always use a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Because our teeth can start to be affected by fluoride levels around 4 or 5 years old, many children’s toothpastes wisely contain lower levels of fluoride. Older children and adults should find a toothpaste they can trust. This means a toothpaste that includes fluoride but leaves out any harmful ingredients that aren’t necessary or healthy for your mouth.
Though swallowing toothpaste can result in fluoride spikes which can negatively affect your adult teeth, simply spitting it out once brushing is complete will help ensure that only healthy levels of fluoride are able to enter the body.
What about mouthwash?
Like cavity-fighting toothpaste, many mouthwashes also contain fluoride. These types of mouthwash can be great at rinsing away food particles on and between your teeth and leaving behind an extra level of fluoride protection.
Because mouthwash can be ingested so quickly in large amounts by curious little ones, always keep bottles stored in a place that little hands cannot reach.
Yes, it is true that swallowing toothpaste can have effects on your teeth and body. But the benefits of using a safe toothpaste containing natural ingredients far outweigh the risks.
You can and should use toothpaste containing fluoride.
Just make sure to follow these guidelines:
- Always use the right amount of toothpaste. A grain of rice for toddlers, a pea-size for older children and adults.
- Always make sure to spit out your toothpaste when done and monitor children who are just learning to brush.
So, don’t throw the fluoride toothpaste out with the bathwater. Keep on brushing at least twice every day to ward off tooth decay. Find a flavor to match your mood, scrub gently for two minutes to let your toothpaste do its magic as you enjoy the flavor, and always spit it out when you are done brushing.