Funny how we always think that every semblance of infection is a sign of some underlying chronic disease or autoimmune reaction. Something as little as mouth sores, gum bleeding and swelling may get you thinking of a serious health problem. In fact, yours truly was a victim of this kind of erroneous thought a few weeks ago! As much as these seemingly mild reactions could be a sign of an underlying condition or disease, they could also be allergic reactions to substances such as toothpaste.
An allergy occurs when the immune system overreacts to a usually harmless substance, such as a food, drink, medicine or fragrance. We might have heard of food, drug or pollen allergy, but toothpaste allergy is rarely discussed. Most toothpastes contain a number of potential allergens such as fluoride, fragrances and flavourings. There are different signs of a toothpaste allergy depending on the particular ingredient causing the reaction and how severe the allergic reaction is. The most common sign of toothpaste allergy is a severe form of chapped lips, known as cheilitis. This could be accompanied by a rash around the mouth. Other signs of toothpaste allergy may include irritated or sore tongue, swollen gums, mouth sores, etc.
One ingredient that is common to almost all toothpastes is sodium lauryl sulfate. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a powerful detergent. It is commonly used in toothpastes and other household cleaning agents such as shampoos, shower gels, and soaps. Its function is to clean surfaces and provide a foaming lather. Most people don’t experience any side effect from having SLS in their toothpaste. However, some people may experience irritation in their mouth or develop an allergic reaction to SLS contained in the toothpaste they use.
Another very common allergen present in toothpastes is flavouring. Flavouring is added to toothpaste not only to mask the unpleasant taste of other ingredients. This makes the toothpaste more enjoyable to use, and also to freshen breath. Since toothpaste allergy is a personal care product that is commonly used from a very young age, sensitivity to flavours can develop from this early exposure.
Another common allergen is Propylene glycol. Its function in toothpastes is to act as a solvent to mix relatively insoluble ingredients and also as a preservative.
Other important allergens in toothpastes include:
- Essential oils: These are aromatic oils obtained from different plants or synthesized from coal and petrolatum. Essential oils commonly used in toothpastes include clove oil, eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil and tea tree oil.
- Propolis: Propolis is made up of beeswax, tree sap, pollen, and other substances. It is widely used as an ingredient in powders, ointments, creams, toothpaste, and chewing gum. Propolis is increasingly being recognized as an important allergen. With a rising prevalence from 0.5 to 1.4% over the past decade. The ingestion of propolis can have deleterious effects. This results in toothpaste allergy reactions such as contact cheilitis, stomatitis, perioral eczema and oral pain.
If you experience tootpaste allergic reaction, such as swelling, redness, dryness, or infection in your mouth, your toothpaste may be the culprit. Discontinue that particular toothpaste and try another. If symptoms persist, see your dentist immediately.
NOTE: Not all mouth problems (infections) are caused by the ingredients in toothpastes, some are actually signs of underlying health conditions.