Whether you’re a parent of a small child or are just curious about the consequences of accidentally swallowing toothpaste, we are here to fill you in.
Many types of toothpaste contain fluoride, the active ingredient that protects your teeth against cavities and decay. It’s important to note that fluoride is only harmful if consumed in large quantities.
You should never consume toothpaste intentionally or in excessive amounts due to the possible health consequences of long-term fluoride ingestion.
In this article, we will address the effects of swallowing toothpaste and explore the reasons why accidentally ingesting more fluoride toothpaste than should be used for brushing, especially long term, could mean possible health risks.
Possible Effects of Swallowing Too Much Fluoride Toothpaste
The amount of fluoride found in toothpaste is not considered harmful and is approved by the FDA for dental hygiene use. However, you should never consume toothpaste intentionally or in excessive amounts.
Let’s explore the possible health repercussions of long-term toothpaste ingestion.
Fluoride poisoning typically results from ingesting a large amount of fluoride at once.
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.
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.
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 in early childhood. Higher levels of early fluoride exposure have also been linked with lower scores on IQ tests.
Other Health Consequences of Excessive Fluoride Ingestion
Apart from the issues listed above, excessive ingestion of fluoride can result in the following health concerns:
- Early puberty, infertility, and 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)
Does This Mean I Should Stop Using Fluoride Toothpaste?
Typically, unless you're directed by a medical or dental professional to use a non-fluoride toothpaste, 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 fluoride levels. Older children and adults should find 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 can enter the body.
How Much Toothpaste Should You Use? Guidelines on Amounts by Age
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.
What About Accidentally Swallowing 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.
Accidentally swallowing a little mouthwash is typically not a cause for concern. At worst, you may experience a little nausea and diarrhea. But because some mouthwash brands may contain harmful ingredients like ethanol, it can be more serious if consumed in larger quantities, leading to symptoms like dizziness, difficulty breathing, drowsiness or severe side effects like convulsions or falling into a coma.
Since mouthwash can be ingested so quickly in large amounts by curious little ones, we recommend always keeping bottles stored in a place that little hands cannot reach.
How To Keep Everyone Safe When Using Fluoride Toothpaste
When using fluoride toothpaste for yourself or your family, always use the right amount. A grain of rice-sized toothpaste is good for toddlers, while a pea-sized amount works for older children and adults.
Always spit out your toothpaste when you’re finished brushing, and monitor children who are just learning to brush.
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The information in this article was written or reviewed for accuracy by the Twice Team. Learn more about us.
- Fluoride | Cleveland Clinic
- Fluorosis | Mouth Healthy
- Skeletal Fluorosis | Fluoride Alert
- Hyperthyroidism - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
- Prenatal exposure to fluoride and neuropsychological development in early childhood: 1-to 4 years old children | Science Direct
- Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: an updated review | NIH
- Atherosclerosis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment | WebMD
- What to know about bone cancer | Medical News Today