04/25/2012 11:12 am ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

If It's Not a Specialty Breath Freshener, it May Contain Ingredients You Won't Like

This month has been a big one for news about bad breath. In particular, several stories have come out voicing concern over the ingredients in non-specialty breath fresheners. While such a topic is nothing new, the substances that researchers made note of are especially common. This means that now, more than ever, it is important to care for your teeth and gums with products that are all-natural and free of irritants and allergens.

After all, common toothpastes and mouthwashes are seemingly brimming with harmful and unnecessary compounds. Just look at some of the things that investigators have noticed in non-specialty oral health products.

First, there's triclosan.

A century ago, tooth care was woefully inadequate, consisting mostly of baking-soda and-grit-based toothpowder and boar's hair toothbrushes. However, advances in oral care have not all been for the best. Consider an article recently published by the Montreal Gazette, which noted that public health officials are getting more and more concerned about the triclosan in toothpaste. While specialty products typically avoid this antibacterial agent, more common varieties often list it among their ingredients.

What's so bad about an antibacterial? Well, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lists triclosan as an insecticide.

And that's not all. As the newspaper reported, triclosan may also have subtler physical effects, such as hormone disruption. It noted that, because of such concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reopened its investigation into the effects of triclosan in toothpastes.

If you think that's not so bad, then get a load of this: When triclosan-laden material mixes with trace amounts of chlorine -- like the kind found in public drinking water -- it can form chloroform.

That's according to a hazard summary released by the EPA. The agency explains that chloroform was once used as an anesthetic, although it was abandoned for ether when doctors realized that chloroform is significantly more toxic. Today, almost all the chloroform utilized in the U.S. goes toward making Teflon.

It's pretty clear that, if the triclosan in toothpaste were to make chloroform, this chemical reaction wouldn't exactly be beneficial. As the environmental watchdog group Beyond Pesticides (BP) told Public Radio International, any finding that confirms the creation of chloroform would necessitate quick action.

"That waves a lot of red flags. If you're brushing your teeth, and a lot of toothpaste contains triclosan, are you being exposed to chloroform through the chlorine in the tap water?" said BP's Nichelle Harriott. "Our regulatory system tends to be more reactionary than precautionary, and so we do allow chemicals into the environment without sufficient human and environmental health overview. So we're now retroactively trying to do something about this."

The news source added that scientists have another concern about triclosan -- namely, that its overuse could gradually lead to antibiotic resistance among the microbes found in our mouths.

And this still isn't all that health officials are concerned about. When it comes to cheap toothpastes, yet another ingredient that's raising eyebrows is food dye, which researchers have tentatively linked to an increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The rate of ADHD among American kids is already quite high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 10 children has been diagnosed with the condition. That's about 5.4 million youths between the ages of 4 and 17!

While the causes of this condition are still murky (scientists believe it is largely hereditary), some experts have noted that three food dyes -- Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 -- seem to aggravate the severity of ADHD. And these compounds are occasionally found in common toothpastes.

Psychiatrist Daniel Bober told CBS 4 Miami that it's important that parents consider giving their children products that avoid food dyes.

"I am telling my patients that they should be aware that this data is out there and that food dyes may be exacerbating ADHD symptoms," he explained. "Before they put their kids on drugs, they may want to ... eliminate these food dyes to see if the symptoms could be treated that way before using medication."

Oral health-wise, one of the best ways to avoid dyes is to use all-natural specialty toothpastes that contain no irritants or synthetic ingredients. As a plus, specialty products also avoid FD&C Blue No. 2, a staining agent that appears in non-specialty products and, outside the realm of dental health, is used to dye jeans.

Good riddance.

The best oral health products take the simple approach. They don't use synthetic chemicals, they don't include dyes or detergents, they avoid allergens and they contain no alcohol. Instead, specialty breath fresheners make use of organic ingredients that wet the mouth, neutralize odor compounds and oxygenate the palate, eliminating the germs that cause bad breath.

For more by Dr. Harold Katz, click here.

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