Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Toothy Toxins

Thanks to Eduardo Arias, an intrepid, label-reading shopper in Panama, toxic diethylene glycol, a.k.a. antifreeze, was found in Chinese-made toothpaste. Not only did Mr. Arias recognize this poison, which, in tainted cough syrup, killed or injured 138 Panamanians last year, but he trekked on foot to three pass-the-buck government offices to press a complaint that was soon heard around the world. The modest whistleblower remained anonymous, however, until tracked down by The New York Times, which published his story on October 1.

Meanwhile, there’s another ingredient that deserves the brush-off. The other day, happy to have bought a brand-name toothpaste for cheap, I nearly fainted upon reading the ingredients list. I had just brushed my teeth with triclosan, an antimicrobial chemical usually found (and to be avoided) in liquid soaps. I had never seen triclosan in toothpaste before. Why was it there? “Antigingivitis,” the label said somewhat cryptically.

The American Dental Association pamphlet, “Preventing Periodontal Disease,” does not mention triclosan. It says that gingivitis, or receding and infected gums, can be prevented by brushing twice a day, flossing between teeth, and getting a regular cleaning from a dentist. (see

The problem: The American Medical Association, World Health Organization and others have warned for years that triclosan-spiked soaps not only are no more effective than ordinary soap, but their use may contribute to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, when exposed to chlorinated water (the kind that comes out of taps in 84% of large municipal systems, according to the America Waterworks Association), triclosan can produce chloroform, a probably human carcinogen, according to this month's The Green Guide (, which lists some more natural alternatives.

Rather than serve yourself a toxic morsel on your toothbrush, check the label and reject triclosan and diethylene glycol.

Thank you, Mr. Aria!

Remember, there's always baking soda. And a drop of Dr. Bronner's.

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