06/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mouth Health: Pesticide In Your Toothpaste?

We are all familiar with using toothpaste. In fact, most of us use that minty flavored gel (or paste) several times a day, every day of our lives (or are supposed to, anyway).
But have you ever stopped to wonder what is actually in these dental pastes that have become a routine part of our health regimens? While it may not be something that a person really puts a lot of thought into, having a clearer understanding of what makes for quality toothpaste ingredients is a valuable thing to know.

While there are several quality toothpastes available on the market, some of these toothpastes use ingredients that we would think twice about using under normal circumstances. That's not to say that toothpaste should be considered an unsafe product overall, but it makes sense in recognizing that certain toothpastes are better and safer than others. And what sets these toothpastes apart? Ingredients.

While many of these products are diluted in toothpaste form, and mixed with water, they are still irritants through prolonged usage. For example, exercise caution if your toothpaste contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). While known as a foaming and cleaning agent, this ingredient is a known skin irritant that can cause damage to the tissue lining the inside of a person's mouth. Though continued use, these irritants can eventually lead to canker sores (otherwise known as mouth ulcers), and can be easily absorbed by the eyes, brain and liver, in addition to causing problems with the body's natural healing processes. For these reasons, it is not surprising that this ingredient has been classified as a poison by the Journal of The American College of Toxicology. Yet, it's in a LOT of toothpastes.

The similar sounding Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a potential carcinogen and clinical studies have shown that this ingredient can also be a cause of hair loss. This chemical cannot be metabolized by the human liver, which means that it can remain in the body's tissues for a very long time.

Triclosan is an antibiotics-based ingredient, but it is also considered a pesticide that also goes by the name of cloxifenolum. While this ingredient does help to kill bacteria and prevent gingivitis, it can cause developmental harm and form residual build up in a person's body. The negatives, however, are still under review, and not completely conclusive at the present time.

Hydrated silica is another ingredient used to help whiten teeth. Most people are already aware of this ingredient under a different name: Common sand. Those little grains are used as a mild abrasive to help remove plaque (in conjunction with calcium carbonate, which comes from chalk). While it is listed as "Generally Recognized as Safe" by the Food and Drug Administration, the underlying meaning is pretty clear that there are still some concerns of risk in continued usage.

Yes, I just told you there is probably sand in your toothpaste. Even some so-called natural brands have Hydrated Silica.

This all leads to a question: why would companies continue to use these types of ingredients regardless of the health risks? The answer is a simple one, but unpleasant: These ingredients are simply cheaper to use in manufacturing, and can turn out a higher profit for a company. And as cost conscious consumers, people go to where the best bargains are. Also, I do want to point out again that these "bad" ingredients are there in very small amounts, and are also diluted with water, etc.

However, it's almost the same type of thing as artificial sweeteners -- deep down inside, we all really know that diet soda really isn't that good for us, but we drink it anyway.

So what can people do to protect themselves? These answers are simple: Read the ingredients on the product's label. Do some research, and find out what those unfamiliar-sounding ingredients actually are. Look for alternative toothpastes, such as the Supersmile Teeth Whitening brand I sometimes talk about, or perhaps some herbal types that use ingredients such as fennel and tea tree oils.

A little bit of research and using different products goes a long way in understanding the potential dangers of continued use, and in deterring any harmful effects.

Of course everyone wants to have clean, healthy teeth, and it almost seems like it is a bit of a Catch 22 in trying to find a balance between having whiter teeth and avoiding these processed chemicals. But there are products available from your dentist and in health stores that give the same "clean teeth" benefit without the negative chemicals and the like.

Again, I don't want to scare you -- that isn't my intent. But I've seen people that are really conscious about the things they put in their body, and then reach for the worst toothpaste imaginable. Toothpaste just isn't something we think much about. So hopefully, this post makes you a little more aware of what's out there, and what's in your toothpaste.

Until next time, keep smiling!