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Warning: Do Not Swallow!Scrutinizing the toothpaste, a hazardous item in everyday life
Kim Hyo-jin  |  hjstella218@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2015.10.08  16:46:46
트위터 페이스북 구글 카카오스토리
   
 
THE CLEANSING of teeth is a habit adopted by people throughout history. Some ancient peoples rubbed their teeth with cloths or swabbed them with vinegar as methods to clean their teeth. Among them, the Egyptians are known to have been the first people to use toothpaste, made from powdered pumice and vinegar. But science has supplied us with numerous toothpaste ingredients today that the ancient Egyptians never would have dreamed existed. After every meal, people habitually squeeze toothpaste onto their toothbrushes. Have they ever wondered if the chemical ingredients are safe?
 
What is inside a tube of toothpaste?
Toothpaste is mainly used for the purpose of preventing tooth decay by removing food particles and plaque from teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance made up of oral bacteria that forms on teeth. It also contains saliva and components dissolved from food that attach onto the teeth. If this plaque is not fully removed from the surface of the teeth, the bacteria digest the sugar in beverages and foods and create acids that gradually eat away the hard outer coating of the teeth called the enamel. This is why brushing our teeth, using toothpaste, after a meal has become a crucial routine in order to clear food particles and deter bacteria growth.
Most toothpastes are composed of an abrasive, a detergent, a thickener, a moisturizer, water, other chemical ingredients, and a fluoride compound that helps prevent tooth decay. Abrasives provide toothpaste the cleaning power and rough textures to polish teeth and remove plaque, food remnants, and stains. Likewise, detergentsclean teeth and  prevent tooth decay. Detergents loosen food remnants and plaque so the toothbrush can easily sweep them away from the surface of the teeth. Detergents are composed of cleaning agents called surfactants, which are complex molecules that attach to water at one end and stains at the other.
   Moreover, toothpaste contains fluoride that strengthens enamel and inhibits the formation of bacterial acids that attack it. Despite the fact that most abrasives and other common chemical reactions are not likely to damage enamel, constant attack by the acids in saliva and plaque can possibly dissolve the enamel. Hence, fluoride allows teeth to undergo a series of chemical reactions called remineralization, a process in which fluoride is transformed into fluoride rich compounds called apatites that chemically bond with enamel to strengthen and protect it from dissolving in acid. In sum, fluoride remineralizes teeth decay and makes the enamel less vulnerable to acid.
 
How do toothpaste ingredients affect our body?
Toothpaste, of course, is intended only for cleaning teeth, and it is not guaranteed to be safe to swallow.  In other words, although toothpaste is manufactured for relatively safe usage, its components are not that different from typical detergents for cleaning. For instance, calcium carbonate, a compound found in chalk, is chemically reformed into finer particles to be used as a common abrasive. Hydrated silica is also used in most toothpastes as abrasive particles, but in fact, it is the same chemical substance found in the beads inside the Do Not Eat packets of preservatives that often accompany parcels. As such, users should pay more attention to the ingredients in toothpaste and be cautious not to swallow it in extensive amounts while brushing teeth.
There are specific toothpastes that contain harsher abrasives with higher potential of damaging the tooth enamel. Toothpastes produced to remove tough stains from tobacco, coffee, and tea often contain comparatively harsher abrasives than regular brands. Harsher abrasives can lead to the loss of cementum, a thin layer of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus that covers the dentin, hard tissue that forms the major portion of teeth, below the gum line. Thus, due to over-brushing and long usage of toothpastes that contain harsh abrasives, cementum and even the sensitive dentin can be worn away. When teeth are damaged in this way, the affected persons suffer jolts of pain whenever they eat cold or hot foods and the damage stays permanent throughout their lives.
Furthermore, since toothpaste is full of chemical ingredients, swallowing a large amount can be detrimental to human health. Once the chemicals get inside the body, they can cause stomach pain and possible intestinal blockages. Swallowing toothpaste can destroy mucins, which are proteins that form gels and protect stomach walls. If mucins are formed in smaller amounts due to chemical reactions caused by toothpaste ingredients, it can trigger indigestion and the inflammation of stomach walls that can eventually lead to stomach ulcers.
   Many more serious symptoms might occur when swallowing a large amount of toothpaste containing fluoride, because of fluoride toxicity. Because the concentration of fluoride in toothpaste is much higher than that of fluoridated water, consuming a significant amount of fluoride through toothpaste is inevitably damaging. The most common symptoms from consuming fluoride in toothpaste are nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Also, fluoride caninjure many body parts in addition to the teeth. Asan endocrine disruptor,it can negatively affect bones, glands, the brain, and even blood sugar levels. Considering the dangers of fluoride to human health, people should avoid swallowing toothpaste as much as possible.
 
Ways to maintain the teeth healthy
Now it is clear which chemical ingredients are included in toothpaste and why people should take care not to swallow toothpaste. It is important to rinse thoroughly after brushing teeth. Further suggestions on mouth hygiene and how to keep your teeth healthy are listed in the table below.
 
* Box 1
 
How to brush your teeth the right way
1.     Use only about a pea sized dab of toothpaste to brush your teeth in order to avoid damaging them from extensive fluoridation.
2.     Brush for at least two minutes. Divide your mouth into four sections and spend 30 seconds on each part.
3.     Brush at least twice a day. Three times a day is highly recommended.
4.     Do not brush more than three times a day. Too much brushing can wear down your tooth enamel and damage gums.
5.     Brush thoroughly all the hard-to-reach areas. Otherwise, plaque has time to sit in the mouth and cause damage.
6.     Wait 30 minutes before brushing if you have eaten sour beverages or foods which contain acid that soften the tooth enamel. Give saliva time to restore the tooth enamel.
7.     Do not forget to brush your molars, the inner surface of the teeth, and your tongue. Then rinse out your mouth.
8.     Rinse the toothbrush and let it air dry after brushing. Otherwise, germs from your mouth and teeth can remain on the toothbrush.
9.     Keep the toothbrush in a holder. If not, it will be exposed to germs from the toilet and sink.
10. Change your toothbrush every three or four months. Broken bristles will not brush teeth thoroughly.
11. Make sure to change your toothbrush if you have had a cold. The bristles can collect germs that lead to repeat infections.
 
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   Toothpaste has two main functions: cosmetic and hygienic. Brushing with toothpaste has improved people’s appearances by removing food particles, and has kept their mouth healthy by preventing tooth decay, using chemical ingredients such as fluoride. Nevertheless, it can be harmful when a large amount of toothpaste is swallowed and enters the human body. Beyond the purpose of cleaning teeth, toothpaste is at risk of damaging our teeth and our health. Therefore, it is important to brush teeth with a moderate amount of toothpaste and to be careful to avoid swallowing. Just as toothpaste cannot be placed back in the tube, damaged teeth and worsen health are also not easily restored.  

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