Toothpaste is (hopefully) part of your daily routine, but as your tube of toothpaste will tell you, it’s not actually meant to be swallowed. It does usually taste good, though, and spitting out something you put in your mouth on purpose is actually kind of weird when you think about it. You’ll often swallow a tiny amount while brushing your teeth anyway (even if you try not to). Sometimes, more than a teensy bit will make its way down your gullet, and you might wonder — what happens when you actually swallow too much toothpaste? The answer depends on a couple of things — how much you actually pound down, and what it’s made of.
Oops, you swallowed too much toothpaste. Now what?
For starters, not all toothpaste that winds up on your toothbrush is made up of the same ingredients. One that you’ll need to take note of, though, is fluoride. The majority of toothpaste tubes you’ll find at the store are formulated with fluoride, which is toxic in large amounts (via Poison Control). Swallowing a bit here and there during normal brushing is no big deal, but if you manage to choke down a big glob on the regular, your stomach might hurt and you could experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
KidsHealth notes that fluoride poisoning is rare, but that over 80 percent of suspected fluoride overingestion reports are tied to kids under 6, which leaves 20 percent for older kids, and even grownups. No matter how old a person is, a phone call to the poison control center is necessary if it’s suspected that someone has ingested too much toothpaste that contains fluoride.
Other toothpaste ingredients you shouldn't swallow
If you don’t use toothpaste that contains fluoride, then you’ll be in better shape if you accidentally swallow some, but there are other ingredients you should watch out for because they can also cause some problems. Toothpaste that helps combat sensitivity, for example, contains a nitrate that can cause issues if large amounts are consumed, such as diarrhea (via CDC).
Also, there are more and more fluoride-free toothpastes hitting the market, both for kids and adults. Training toothpaste meant for kids, for example, can contain a sweetener called sorbitol, which can have a mild laxative effect (this means diarrhea). Fluoride-free tubes of toothpaste meant for bigger kids and adults often have the same ingredient, such as some varieties from Tom’s of Maine. However, sorbitol also shows up in fluoridated toothpastes, which will just amplify any stomach problems you experience if you swallow a bunch of that type.
Basically, swallowing a little toothpaste during your oral hygiene routine won’t make you sick, but definitely don’t make a habit of not spitting it out because it can really do a number on your body if you swallow too much.
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