Two or three times a day, every day, for most of your life, you use toothpaste. But what’s in it? Is it actually good for you? And why is there a scary label on the back warning you not to swallow it? If you want to know the answers to these questions and more about toothpaste, nine out of 10 dentists (might very well) recommend this episode!
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- If toothpaste is supposedly safe enough to put in your mouth three times a day, why is there a warning to call your local poison control center if you happen to swallow it?
- Fluoride can strengthen teeth and reduce the risk of cavities, but too much exposure can cause problems from bone disease to certain cancers. So why is it in most toothpaste and 70% of our drinking water, and how is it regulated?
- What sneaky loophole allows toothpaste manufacturers to bypass the legal disclosure of certain ingredients in their products that might cause us to think twice about using them?
- What are some of these rarely listed ingredients, and what are the hazards of using them?
- How can we keep our teeth and gums clean and healthy without exposing ourselves to potential toxins?
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, on Instagram, and on YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, on Twitter, on Instagram, on TikTok, and on YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
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Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the show we did with Malcolm Gladwell — author of books like Blink, Outliers, and Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know? Catch up here with episode 256: Malcolm Gladwell | What We Should Know About Talking to Strangers!
Resources from This Episode:
- Assessment of Fluoride Levels During Pregnancy and Its Association with Early Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes | Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care
- Does FDA Regulate Fluoride in Drinking Water? | FDA
- Triclosan Is Allowed in Toothpaste and Accumulates over Time | Time
- Triclosan-Free Toothpaste | Crest
- What’s the Problem with Glycerin in Toothpaste? | Good-Gums
- Tooth Powder Vs. Toothpaste: Pros & Cons of Each | Healthline
- Kevin Steals the Toothbrush | Home Alone
- Pro Teeth Class Action Says Charcoal Toothpaste Isn’t Safe | Top Class Actions
- Crest Toothpaste Can’t Reverse Gingivitis Damage, Class Action Lawsuit Says | Top Class Actions
- Accepted Product Search | American Dental Association
- The 15 Best Natural and Organic Toothpastes For a Healthy Smile | Harper’s Bazaar
672: Toothpaste | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I break down the topic you may have never even thought about. We opened things up and debunk common misconceptions — why the Olympics are a little bit of a sham, why expiration dates are nonsense, why tipping makes absolutely no sense, and lots more.
[00:00:24] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of really amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes to authors, thinkers and performers.
[00:00:44] And if you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about the show, the starter packs are the way to do it. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on this show — topics like negotiation and communication, China, North Korea, activism and resistance, scams and conspiracy debunks, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or take a look on your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:11] On this edition of Skeptical Sunday — toothpaste, two or three times every day for most of your life, you use toothpaste, but what is in it? Is it actually good for you? And why is there a scary label on the back warning you not to swallow it? I mean, I'm supposed to put it in my mouth, right? Comedian and fact-checker, David C. Smalley is here.
[00:01:27] David, what is going on with our tooth? Because I, frankly, blindly trust the stuff and have for decades.
[00:01:34] David C. Smalley: As do most of us, I think — you know, those weirdos who only use some sort of like gross organic vegan toothpaste made out of like bamboo oil and tastes like sadness.
[00:01:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So the ones where you use it and then you're like, "Okay, I want to brush my teeth with real toothpaste now to make them feel clean."
[00:01:49] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah, you got to brush your teeth afterwards. So I think we're going to make a few more of those weirdos today, maybe. Here's what everybody needs to do, everyone — you know, unless you're in traffic — grab your toothpaste. Let's follow along on this one because I promise you, there's probably a warning label on the back and the warning labels going to say something along the lines of, "if swallowed or if accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control center right away." Now, why would that be the case for something literally designed to go in your mouth a few times a day?
[00:02:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I'm assuming it's the fluoride, but who knows what else is in there.
[00:02:23] David C. Smalley: Right? Oh yeah. We're going to get into that, but you're exactly right. According to the American Dental Association, fluoride can strengthen teeth and reduce the risk of cavities, which is why it's in toothpaste. And it's also why over 70 percent of tap water in the United States contains fluoride.
[00:02:39] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So if it's dangerous to swallow, there's probably only trace amounts in the tap water.
[00:02:44] David C. Smalley: You would hope so, but who knows? I'm guessing that's the case everywhere, except like Florida, which would explain all the news. But I think the National Institute of Health says that the elevated amounts of fluoride leads to a bone disease called skeletal fluorosis. It can also lead to white spots on the teeth, pitted enamel, tooth decay, and it's associated with certain cancers. It can harm children whose teeth are still developing, and it can even suppress your immune system. The National Library of Medicine did a study on fluoride in pregnancy with 600 patients and found that excess fluoride exposure can cause adverse pregnancy outcomes and negative health effects on both the mother and the fetus. So we do need to pay attention to our fluoride intake.
[00:03:28] Jordan Harbinger: It's a little ironic that fluoride can cause all these problems with your teeth and bones. Like that whole reason is I guess we want that positive effect but too much leads to a negative effect. White spots on your teeth is funny, right? Because I'm trying to whiten all of the tooth, actually. Thank you. I'll take a white spot, preferably that covers the whole tooth.
[00:03:45] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:03:45] Jordan Harbinger: So how much fluoride are we talking about that's bad for you? Is that like a mega dose?
[00:03:50] David C. Smalley: That's why the warning is there? I mean, you definitely really in real life do not want to swallow your toothpaste. The limit deemed safe by apparently random standards is one milligram per liter in your tap water. But your toothpaste has a concentration that's about 1000 times that safe limit.
[00:04:06] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:04:06] David C. Smalley: So every time you're brushing, you should feel like one of those fire-breathers who take fuel in their mouth. You're sloshing death around in there. Okay.
[00:04:13] Jordan Harbinger: So why do you say random standards? I mean, I assume it's like this is FDA or some regulation on fluoride amounts that we ingest.
[00:04:20] David C. Smalley: Yeah. You'd think so, Jordan. With something on the books called the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, it sounds like they took care of that, right? That act technically gave regulatory oversight of public drinking water to the EPA. But the FDA's very own website says, and I'm quoting, "The decision to fluoridate a water supply is made by state or local municipalities and is not mandated or regulated by the EPA or any other federal entity."
[00:04:48] Jordan Harbinger: So in the act, the Clean Water Act, they say the federal government is responsible for the safety of drinking water, but then they're like, "Okay, state and local governments, just add as much fluoride as you want without any oversight whatsoever."
[00:05:01] David C. Smalley: Bingo.
[00:05:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:02] David C. Smalley: But let's be clear. I can come on and destroy drinking water for people on another Skeptical Sunday episode in the future. Just know that you're rinsing that fluoride out of your mouth with more fluoride.
[00:05:13] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So I doubt we're doing an entire episode on toothpaste if the takeaway is, "Hey, don't swallow it." Like, okay, it says that on the package. What else is going on?
[00:05:20] David C. Smalley: Yeah. The biggest issue is mysterious ingredients. If you're still holding your toothpaste at home, like I am — and I'm not going to share the brand name because, well, you're a lawyer, you get it.
[00:05:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:05:31] David C. Smalley: Mine says active ingredient, stannous fluoride. Under other information, right next to that, it says products containing stannous fluoride may produce surface staining of the teeth.
[00:05:43] Jordan Harbinger: First of all, stannous fluoride sounds like a character from Game of Thrones, but we're brushing our teeth with products that can cause tooth stains. That makes absolutely no sense at all.
[00:05:52] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And the levels of fluoride deemed toxic if swallowed. That's all they tell us about it. It's like some sort of medical ointment like no other ingredients are typically listed on toothpaste. It just says active ingredient like it would on some sort of topical ointment. It doesn't tell you all the ingredients.
[00:06:09] Jordan Harbinger: I don't get how — okay, so we're putting these things in our mouths every single day, twice if you're actually taking care of your hygiene, how do they get away with not listing the ingredients? What the hell?
[00:06:17] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It took me a bit to find out why they were able to do this, but almost all manufacturers add things to their toothpaste, like whitening or brightening or brighten your smile or something having to do with the way you look, so that it will be listed as a cosmetic product. And once it's listed as cosmetic, they don't have to disclose ingredients. And if they pretend to be medical or ingestible in some way, then they'd have to show the ingredients. But as long as it's considered cosmetic, they only have to show the active ingredient.
[00:06:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's kind of terrifying. So it's not even about actual tooth health. It's about looking good. And that's kind of their technicality, they're little loophole where they're like, "We can put anything in here because it's not a food or a drug. It's just a cosmetic."
[00:06:59] David C. Smalley: Yep. Exactly. And I went to a major toothpaste brand website to see if they at least listed ingredients online. And to my surprise, there was an actual link at the bottom called ingredients.
[00:07:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:07:10] David C. Smalley: And I was like, oh cool. I was hopeful for about 10 seconds until I clicked it.
[00:07:13] Jordan Harbinger: Did they just send you a video of like Rick Astley? Like, "Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down."
[00:07:18] David C. Smalley: They might as well have. I mean, it takes you to a page that shows common toothpaste ingredients.
[00:07:24] Jordan Harbinger: Like in general.
[00:07:25] David C. Smalley: In general, just here's what people happen to put in. And then it goes, "Let's find the right product for you." And they go around making you like answer questions and click things to completely distracting from whatever's in there. And according to federal law, they don't have to tell us what's in the toothpaste.
[00:07:40] Jordan Harbinger: That's kind of mafia-like, "Oh, be careful. You wouldn't want somebody to slip and fall and get hurt. There could be an accident. You got to have some safety around here. Why don't you hire my guys?"
[00:07:48] David C. Smalley: Yeah. "Now, come over here. Let's see what we can do for you."
[00:07:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's right. That's what it sounds like, but for toothpaste ingredients.
[00:07:53] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:07:53] Jordan Harbinger: So, okay, so I assume you got to the bottom of this in some way.
[00:07:57] David C. Smalley: Yep. I sure did. So I found a bunch of different ingredients and I'm going to kind of break some of them down and talk about kind of the dangers and some things that sound dangerous in art. But the first ingredient I've found that was really alarming is called triclosan. In 2016, the FDA banned the triclosan from being in soaps because exposure to high doses has been linked to health issues like bacteria resistance and hormone issues, and gut health disruption, but it's allowed in toothpaste.
[00:08:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:08:25] David C. Smalley: And in one study, try close and even stayed in the bristles of toothbrushes for about two weeks after consumers switched to a non-triclosan toothpaste. The FDA as of right now has not yet officially banned it from toothpaste. But here's the kicker, on the FDA website, they say consumers should strongly consider avoiding using toothpaste that uses triclosan.
[00:08:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yet, they won't force manufacturers to list their ingredients. So actually, "Hey, don't use this thing." "How do I know if it's in there?" "Well, you won't because they won't list the ingredients. So now most brands I assume are going to say they don't use it, but we really don't know.
[00:08:57] David C. Smalley: We really don't know. I mean, some are making promises. So in 2017, Time Magazine did a report on a study that was showing how dangerous triclosan really is. And at that time, Colgate was rumored to use triclosan in its toothpaste. So Time wrote to Colgate and they asked them about the use of triclosan and Colgate responded and Time posted the actual written response in the Time Magazine article, which is still available online if people want to go read it. Here's the quote from Colgate responding to Time Magazine in 2017, they say, "Colgate Total toothpaste is uniquely formulated with 0.3 percent of the antibacterial ingredient triclosan to fight harmful plaque germs that can cause gingivitis and it is approved as effective and safe by the US FDA. Regarding this study, the authors state that they do not consider oral exposure to triclosan toothpaste to be a health risk. And their study shows that triclosan that might be released from a toothbrush head is a fraction of the standard dose coming from a single use of triclosan-containing toothpaste, and far less than the three milligrams established as safe." So they do admit to putting it in there.
[00:10:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's like, "We're poisoning you, but it's not that much poison. So calm down."
[00:10:12] David C. Smalley: Right. And the thing is they acted in 2017 like it was no big deal.
[00:10:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:10:16] David C. Smalley: Two years later, in 2019 Colgate, then promised to stop using triclosan. And they do not list their ingredients at all on their website. They don't even say here's what's generally in toothpaste, but funny enough Crest, their biggest competitor has a huge notice on their website, touting triclosan-free toothpaste, which I find hilarious.
[00:10:34] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So it's like, "Hey, by the way, the other guys they're trying to kill you, but we have given up that pursuit and we now have another chemical in there but we're not going to tell you what it is though."
[00:10:44] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:10:44] Jordan Harbinger: That's not the only harmful thing about toothpaste. There's a lot more pages left in our notes here.
[00:10:48] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. So, I already addressed the sodium fluoride. It has its own issues, but it's pretty much a staple of most mainstream toothpaste and a lot of dentists recommend using fluoride-based toothpaste, but there's another ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate. It's sometimes known as SLS and it's just a foaming agent that almost every brand of toothpaste uses, but it doesn't actually do anything to help clean your teeth. It just feels all foamy in there, and you associate that with clean. And many brands market that product as natural because it's made from a base of coconut oil, but there are more and more studies that show it can easily be contaminated and become toxic during the manufacturing process. So it's not really worth the risk and it's not necessary. It doesn't really do anything except sort of trick your mind into feeling clean because of foam bubbles.
[00:11:35] Jordan Harbinger: You know, this is interesting because that is one of my major gripes with the all-natural toothpaste is I'm like, it doesn't feel clean because there's no foam, right? So it's something we expect to be in toothpaste because it's always been there, but it doesn't really help us.
[00:11:46] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:11:47] Jordan Harbinger: And yeah, it's a little off-putting if I'm brushing my teeth and there's just no foam, but there's a little bit of flavory oil and now I'm like, okay, I don't — that's why I want to brush my teeth again.
[00:11:56] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah. And I'd feel the same way and I totally get it. It would seem strange except to those weirdos who have been ahead of the curve all these years, using that non-foaming, vegan, organic, sad-tasting, cleansing gel, but we'd have to get used to it if we want to make these changes in our lives.
[00:12:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:09] David C. Smalley: So another thing that it causes that sort of smooth, clean feel is something called polyethylene glycol, which is a synthetic polymer. That's used to preserve moisture. And it's like a thickening agent that helps toothpaste from like running off your toothbrush. If you notice the natural ones tend to be thinner and kind of dripping around, and the major brands are like a solid, thick clump on the toothbrush.
[00:12:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:32] David C. Smalley: It's mostly because of polyethylene glycol but that ingredient is also a primary ingredient in antifreeze.
[00:12:39] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. That sounds disgusting. But also I want to be as a skeptic — There's also water and things that can kill you or you know, there's a lot of things that are ingredients in other things where it's like, you know, that this — was that thing when we were kids, like margarine is one ingredient away from plastic and it's like, well, that's not surprising, but also one is plastic and one is margarine because one has that extra ingredient and one doesn't.
[00:12:59] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah. It's important to note that it's also important to think about the amounts.
[00:13:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:03] David C. Smalley: Because when people start talking about the older vaccines with aluminum, or they talk about aluminum and they're talking about chemtrails or whatever, you can buy it into most vegetables and have some trace elements of aluminum in those vegetables. So it sounds dangerous. It sounds poisonous. It's naturally occurring. This stuff could be that way, but it's also linked to endocrine disruption, which is what happens when a chemical mimics like a natural hormone and causes your body to overreact to a stimulus.
[00:13:30] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:31] David C. Smalley: So, it is alarming. It depends on the amounts. We've been doing it for years. I get it. But as when we're talking about the ingredients, we've got to be truthful about what these things are and what they're doing. There are also — this was the thing that's made me bring up this topic and I'm like, "Jordan, I want to cover toothpaste," because of how much sweetener is in toothpaste and they don't use sugar. I think they used to, they don't use sugar anymore. They use saccharin in most toothpaste.
[00:13:55] Jordan Harbinger: Brushing your teeth with sugar is so ridiculous. That notion is something else.
[00:13:58] David C. Smalley: Yeah, I know, but saccharin is deemed safe. It's super sweet and it doesn't give cavities, which makes me wonder why we're not just making candy out of saccharin.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: For sure, there's some derivative that goes in. Maybe it just tastes disgusting on its own.
[00:14:12] David C. Smalley: Yeah, maybe so, but again, that's another Skeptical Sunday's episode. You know, I would love to talk about things like all the banned foods and all the crazy things that we shove into our bodies, but toothpaste also contains things like gluten and alcohol and silica for polishing.
[00:14:27] Jordan Harbinger: Silica is the thing on those packages that are like moisture suckers, and it says, "Do not eat," in giant letters on it. Isn't that silica?
[00:14:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And that's why you're not supposed to swallow it. It's like another reason — like basically everything in toothpaste is not supposed to be swallowed. Yeah, it's kind of crazy. The last ingredient is glycerin. It's supposed to help keep your toothpaste from drying out, which is kind of what the polyethylene glycol does as a thickening agent as well. But the problem with glycerin is that it leaves a coating on your teeth. So when you feel smooth after brushing, it's not necessarily that you got rid of all the plaque, it could be this glycerin coating that is over your teeth. And there's this Dr. Gerard Judd who said, "When you brushed with things like that, it takes 27 washes to get glycerin off your teeth.
[00:15:14] Jordan Harbinger: Uh.
[00:15:15] David C. Smalley: He also states that, "Teeth brushed with any toothpaste and all are coated with a film and cannot properly remineralize. And not only does glycerin inhibit the natural process of remineralization, but it's also a magnet for plaque."
[00:15:29] Jordan Harbinger: Come on.
[00:15:30] David C. Smalley: So even if someone's diet is relatively healthy, the problem with glycerin-based toothpaste is that they create conditions for accelerated tooth decay. Now, again, as a skeptic, I have to note that this information comes from a doctor who's working closely with this tooth powder website—
[00:15:47] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:15:48] David C. Smalley: —claiming that the original tooth powder that they sell, of course, is the only healthy way to brush your teeth. Tooth powder was the predecessor of toothpaste. That's kind of what everybody used before the whole paste thing came into existence. And this company saying, "We need to go back to that. It's healthier. It's fewer ingredients, it's more natural." It's going to taste like garbage, but they're advocating for tooth powder as opposed to toothpaste for these reasons.
[00:16:12] Jordan Harbinger: You know what's actually fit for human consumption, at least in larger doses than toothpaste? The products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
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[00:18:06] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:18:09] I mean, now that I know everything else can kill you, I want to know what's in the toothpowder if they'll tell me, but I just think that the cruel irony is that those commercials where people lick their teeth after they're done brushing their teeth and I'm like, "Oh, they're so smooth and shiny." it's like, yeah, there's literally glycerin over it, which is going to accelerate the plaque that sticks to your teeth and make your teeth less resilient to it. It's just so shortsighted. It just makes me angry. It makes me angry that I use toothpaste for 42 years.
[00:18:36] David C. Smalley: Well, I mean, I can get into the dentist and stuff at a minute because I did call him a dentist. I got so involved in this, that I got a dentist on the phone and I'll tell you what he had to say about it in a second. But Healthline did a compare — have you ever heard of tooth powder before this moment.
[00:18:50] Jordan Harbinger: I feel like I have, but it looks like something — in my mind, that's from the era where they're like, "Have you tried cocaine drops for your toothache?" You know, it's like that buy illegal medicine.
[00:19:01] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It just comes in a metal can with no label on it. You're like, "What is going on here?"
[00:19:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You just rub it on your teeth with your finger. And it's like perfect hygiene every time.
[00:19:13] David C. Smalley: So Healthline line did a comparison of powder versus paste with pros and cons, and here's a basic summary of their findings. Okay. I kind of took a bunch of stuff that they listed in charts, and I just kind of made this little paragraph for myself for today. So the research indicates that that powder is more effective at removing stains and plaque. So there's the big takeaway powder is more effective at removing stains and plaque, and it can be easily made at home, but just a couple of simple ingredients.
[00:19:40] Jordan Harbinger: You just need some cocaine and some rocks.
[00:19:45] David C. Smalley: And someone to hold you down because it's going to burn.
[00:19:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, someone to hold you down and maybe a piece of bark to bite into while you're using it.
[00:19:53] David C. Smalley: But they point out that no powder on the market has cavity protection. It's also not been awarded the ADA seal of acceptance by the American Dental Association.
[00:20:03] Jordan Harbinger: If I learned anything from Home Alone, it's that this toothbrush and all dental products have to be approved by the American Dental Association.
[00:20:09] David C. Smalley: Right. I think that was the entire takeaway of Home Alone. That was the whole point. It was actually funded by the ADA, I think. No. So it typically doesn't taste very good and not all manufacturers are transparent with their ingredients. I mean, that's kind of a thing with just about every product. Well toothpaste, it's easy to use. Many different toothpastes have been awarded the ADA seal of approval. It has cavity protection, but most of them, and this was a quote from Healthline. They say, "Most toothpastes contain ingredients that are areas of concern to many people, such as fluoride or other chemicals. And they are also not transparent what their ingredients or practices." So the only real way to know exactly what you're brushing your teeth with is to get like a basic ingredient list of these plaque-removing powders and make it at home by yourself.
[00:20:58] Jordan Harbinger: That's ridiculous. And I'm offended that anybody would think I have time to make my own toothpaste at home. Goodness. All right. So anytime someone is this shady with ingredients, there's almost always a class action lawsuit or 10 going on.
[00:21:12] David C. Smalley: Right. Yeah, so definitely most of the class action lawsuits have to do with major toothpaste companies, either withholding information, hiding something, or making something seem safe when the safety of a product either wasn't yet determined or isn't safe at all. The most recent one that I found is against Procter & Gamble, the owners of Crest, claiming that they are marketing this new charcoal fad as safe and effective without releasing the potential harmful effects of charcoal. And ProTeeth has also been sued for safety issues concerning charcoal. That's just the most recent.
[00:21:44] Jordan Harbinger: Charcoal is definitely trending right now. Like I see it in juice. I see it in all kinds of different products that are — from supplements too. Yeah. I guess toothpaste. Is there any merit to the lawsuit? Is it actually dangerous? Does it work?
[00:21:56] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So in 2017, an article in the journal of the American Dental Association reported that charcoal has been recognized as an abrasive mineral to the teeth and that its inclusion in tooth preparations raises concern about damage to these types of oral structures, like your teeth as well as increasing tooth decay, susceptibility due to the potential loss of enamel. So it doesn't appear to be on the shortlist for professionals, but a New York judge tossed out that specific lawsuit citing that the plaintiff contradicted her own testimony and that she failed to show that she was directly harmed by the product.
[00:22:32] So it kind of seems like a technicality, like it was false advertisement, but you know, rather than doing a false advertisement, she did like an injury-type lawsuit, like "I was harmed by this." And I thought this was interesting too. Another reason that the judge gave for throwing it out was that the plaintiff wasn't worried about the product until she heard about potential risks of charcoal in the media, which is kind of a bizarre thing to include in a ruling. I mean, if someone—
[00:22:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:55] David C. Smalley: If someone's using something because they've been marketed to, and then they see a news report or they hear a podcast like this and go, "Hey, wait a minute. Maybe this stuff isn't safe," you know, maybe directly applying a lawsuit may not be the best course of action, but to throw it out based on her finding new information is really odd to me.
[00:23:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's a little bit of a weird thing. It's kind of like saying, "No you're supposed to wait until you have mesothelioma in order to fight a lawsuit." You can't just say I am probably undergo — I mean, I guess the truth is if there's no damages, then it's hard to do a lawsuit. It's hard to file a successful lawsuit. However, still the idea that this stuff is bad for you and it's in the toothpaste. Yeah, you're right. Maybe a lawsuit isn't the way to go, but certainly people should be made aware of this product not being good for you.
[00:23:38] David C. Smalley: Well, there could be a class action, false advertising lawsuit, for sure.
[00:23:41] Jordan Harbinger: Absolutely.
[00:23:41] David C. Smalley: I mean the ADA flat out says this stuff is not good for your teeth. Yet tons of toothpaste brands are marketing charcoal and it's blowing up all over Instagram. Like tons of people use it. I know people personally who use it every single day, twice a day, and they just have no idea. So I'm sending them my research as I'm doing this going, "You may want to stop using charcoal." Instagram models are blowing it. Have you seen all the advertisements on this and all the people using this, all the influencers?
[00:24:05] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny. People DM me on social media, but I don't use the feed at all. Like I'm not scrolling through it. I know there are influencers doing those because I see influencers schilling, literally just about anything, even if it's horrendous for you.
[00:24:20] David C. Smalley: Jordan, you're missing out. There's nothing like a woman with a big booty and black teeth that would make you want to rip out your credit card.
[00:24:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:24:26] David C. Smalley: So another recent lawsuit claims that Procter & Gamble had their toothpaste listed as clinically proven to help reverse gingivitis. And that's an interesting way to word that because the lawsuit says according to the medical journals and the FDA that a product like that can only control, reduce, or prevent gingivitis and early forms of gum disease, as opposed to reversing and repairing the condition. And it also notes that the FDA has not approved any over-the-counter oral care product for repairing gum damage, including gum damage caused by gingivitis. Because once gums recede due to gingivitis or other issues, it's typically because of bone loss and gum tissue cannot just grow back. It's usually a lot more drastic than that. So any claim stating that a single product can reverse gingivitis is false advertising. Now that's the claim from the lawsuit and as far as I know that lawsuit is still pending.
[00:25:19] Jordan Harbinger: So once you have gingivitis, there's just no hope. You just got to take out your teeth.
[00:25:23] David C. Smalley: Yes. So that's what I was thinking from reading that and diving deeper into that but I was getting conflicting information on it because I was finding some things that said gingivitis is somewhat reversible and gum diseases reversible. So I'm like if it can be reversed, why is this a false advertising lawsuit? So I got on the phone with that dentist that I was talking about. He's actually a fan of my podcast and a Patreon subscriber and I knew he was there. So I reached out to him, ask if he would do a quick phone call. And he said, yes. So we got on the phone. He wanted to remain anonymous. So I'm not crediting him, but he says, technically gingivitis is reversible if it's in the very early stages. So because gingivitis is basically starting with just inflammation or bleeding of the gums, that's all it is.
[00:26:03] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:04] David C. Smalley: But reversing it has to do more with like the actions of flossing and home care and trips to the dentist that can help reverse it in the early stages. But he said, if he were to come across a product that claimed to help reverse gingivitis, he'd be extremely skeptical. It doesn't make any sense.
[00:26:19] Jordan Harbinger: Did you ask him about all this toothpaste drama?
[00:26:22] David C. Smalley: I did. He said that he looks for fluoride as a primary ingredient in toothpaste, but he acknowledged that he's not a specialist in any of the other ingredients. In fact, he had never come across the charcoal thing. He said he had never heard of anyone using charcoal to brush her teeth. He just somehow has completely missed it. Maybe he also is not on Instagram. And he acknowledged that, you know, coming from dental school and being certified by the ADA, he said, "I may be in a bubble." I mean, he's a skeptic as well. And he's like, "I'm willing to say you've given me some stuff to think about." Because I was going through these ingredients and he's like, "I've never heard of that. I didn't know that. I need to look into that." And so he was kind of taken aback by some of them. And then some of the ingredients, like the polyethylene glycol, that's an antifreeze. He said that was a red flag for him when he was in dental school and he pushed back and he was like, "Why is there an ingredient from antifreeze in toothpaste?" And the answer was, "That's just the way it is." And he was like, okay. And then they kind of just dropped it.
[00:27:13] Jordan Harbinger: Just the way it is. And also our annual retreat is sponsored by Crest this year. So don't be asking those kinds of questions at the dinner parties that we're having by the pool.
[00:27:25] David C. Smalley: Yeah. And he did say that if you have young children, which I know you do, he said that, you may want to avoid fluoride in their toothpaste until they really understand the concept of not swallowing any, because he says most kids swallow good portions of their toothpaste. So he said it may be a good idea to avoid toothpaste in small children or go with the powders, go with the natural stuff. And I asked him if any of his patients ever refuse to use fluoride. And he said, about one to two percent actually refuse it. And I said, "Are those teeth just as healthy as the ones that use." And he said, yes, he said, they're very healthy teeth, but — and he made us a good point. He said, people who are that conscious of what they're — like if you're looking at the ingredients in your toothpaste and making a decision, you really care about your health that much, you typically eat healthier. You typically brush more often and you probably brush for longer and more properly. So he's like brushing three times a day and brushing after every meal and all that. Maybe making up for the fact that they're not using fluoride.
[00:28:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good point. It's a good point. I'm waiting for them to invent nanobots that just cleaned my teeth for me until then. I'm a once-a-day and mouthwash-in-the-morning kind of guy. I probably shouldn't disclose that on my show, but there it is.
[00:28:33] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:28:33] Jordan Harbinger: Well, it's good to have a dentist in your pocket anytime you need. That's pretty handy.
[00:28:37] David C. Smalley: Yeah. It's worked out a few times in my life. He actually gave me one parting tip that I have to say is life changing. And I've already implemented this in my life. He talked about the power of gum. Like when we were kids, we were always told about gum, like decaying your teeth and being bad for you, and yada, yada. But he broke it down scientifically. Basically, he said this, he's like the primary reason people get cavities is not because of eating a candy bar or having something sweet. He's like, do that, it's fine. But he's like the primary reason is because of a pH balance and acid levels being thrown off due to things like coffee, sports, drinks, energy drinks, sodas, beer, basically, anything other than water. He's like, it's the liquids that do it. Because what he says is these things, even though they taste good and they're liquid, they dry your mouth out. It's alcohol, it's orange juice, energy drinks, anything that's acidic. And he's like, basically everything you take in that's not water is going to be acid-based on some level. And he's like, and when your mouth gets dry, your pH levels are off, that is what causes the tooth decay, and ultimately, cavities. So he said, you're out somewhere, you want to drink a sports drink, a Gatorade, a Monster, something like that, he said, it gets fine do it, but incorporate drinks of water in between so that your pH levels reset what he calls seven. It's a balance of seven.
[00:29:49] Jordan Harbinger: Right. The pH of seven which is same as water versus like zero super acidic or 14 super alkaline, right?
[00:29:55] David C. Smalley: Exactly. That's exactly what he said. So he's like, just drink a little bit of water while you're having your beer or right after your beer or in between beers, sip water. If you want to go to a bar and have a cocktail, order water with it and actually drink the water. Don't just let it sit there and watch the ice melt.
[00:30:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:30:10] David C. Smalley: And he said, if you don't have water than chew gum while you're out. So if you're after dinner, always have some gum handy and pop some gum in because that gum helps produce saliva. And that resets your mouth back to a pH balance of seven.
[00:30:23] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:30:23] David C. Smalley: So just doing the gum and water thing can drastically help reduce your cavities.
[00:30:28] Jordan Harbinger: I will definitely be chewing gum after dinner. I'm just flashing back to all the things I've been drinking for 40 years, growing up in Michigan, where like you didn't need water. You just had Pepsi and I'm just cringing at all the damage I, for sure, done to my teeth as a result of all of this, and including using toothpaste, which has also just made things even worse apparently. Geez.
[00:30:49] David C. Smalley: Right. So I want to leave everyone with this. I want people to have options, right? So the ADA has a full list of 56 accepted products with the ADA seal stamped on it. And I've also included a comprehensive list of the top 15 natural toothpaste options, and we can provide links to both. And some of the natural toothpaste also have fluoride in them. So there are options of fluoride and non-fluoride, and we can provide links to both of those in the show notes. So listeners can remain skeptical, do their own research, and make their own decisions about their own health.
[00:31:18] Jordan Harbinger: And thank you so much slash I'm annoyed now because whenever I learn this, I'm like, "Well, okay, 42 years have gone by and now I have to change my entire life, at least from a dental hygiene perspective.
[00:31:29] David C. Smalley: Yep.
[00:31:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:31:30] David C. Smalley: Just chew more gum and drink more water and you're usually going to be okay. But this toothpaste thing is definitely worth looking into because we do it so much so often.
[00:31:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm going to have to go outside and look for some gravel to make my own toothpaste now.
[00:31:41] David C. Smalley: Good luck with that.
[00:31:44] Jordan Harbinger: If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into, here's a trailer with Malcolm Gladwell, which is pretty timely right now. We'll discuss why the information we gather from face-to-face, human interaction, isn't as uniquely valuable as we think it is and why television can actually make us worse at reading other people.
[00:32:03] Malcolm Gladwell: Young African-American woman is in Texas, she just has a job interview in a rural Texas town, Sandra Bland, and she's pulled over by a white police officer.
[00:32:10] Police Officer: Hello, ma'am?
[00:32:11] Malcolm Gladwell: They have a conversation.
[00:32:12] Police Officer: Do you mind putting out your cigarette, please?
[00:32:14] Malcolm Gladwell: It quickly escalates.
[00:32:16] Police Officer: I'm giving you a lawful order.
[00:32:17] Sandra Bland: Okay. Are you going to yank me out of my car?
[00:32:19] Malcolm Gladwell: Drags her out of the car.
[00:32:21] Police Officer: Get out now!
[00:32:22] Sandra Bland: He knocked my head in the ground—
[00:32:25] Malcolm Gladwell: She's put in prison. And three days later, she commits suicide in her cell. If she's in an Audi, her chances of being pulled over are lower. And if she's in an Audi with Texas plates, she's fine. Most of all, if she's white, there's no way he's pulling her over. And as I described in the book, all of those inferences are deeply problematic. We have enormous confidence in our ability to draw meaningful conclusions about people based on very superficial evidence.
[00:32:51] Even though the plots of Friends are certainly complex, no one in history has ever watched an episode of Friends and said, "They lost me."
[00:32:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, what is going in the show?
[00:33:00] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Never happened. They do that because they're trained actors. If you watch a lot of TV, you can come to the false impression, but that's what's going on in your face, but that's not true at all. And a significant number of people are what are called mismatched. And that is that their facial expressions under certain circumstances do not match the way they feel on the inside.
[00:33:21] The Amanda Knox case, an American teenager goes to study a year abroad in Italy and gets falsely accused of murdering her roommate. And that case is all about the fact that Amanda Knox was mismatched. They have another guy who clearly did it, and they dragged her in, why? Because she doesn't behave the way the Italian police and the British tabloid press thinks someone whose roommate has been murdered ought to behave. We are sending people jail for years and years and years for crimes that had nothing to do with.
[00:33:47] Jordan Harbinger: Kids, I mean, she was like a college student, right?
[00:33:49] Malcolm Gladwell: A college student, yeah.
[00:33:50] Jordan Harbinger: For more from Malcolm Gladwell, including how the misunderstandings between people and cultures invite conflict — I told you this was timely, check out episode 256 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:34:02] Kind of scary that something we are supposed to put in our mouth every single day and put in our kids' mouths for that matter is something that you really, really, really should not swallow. There's a lot wrong with toothpaste that I just never had any idea about. And that sort of freaks me out because I've definitely swelled plenty of toothpaste in my day and I'll make a habit out of it. But at least I didn't think it was actually bad for me. That's one of the side effects of doing these episodes, a lot of things that I did my whole life turned out to be really bad ideas.
[00:34:28] Thanks to you who listen. Topics suggestions for future episodes of Skeptical Sunday are always welcomed. Email me, email@example.com and give us your thoughts. A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com as well. Transcripts in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, at davidcsmalley.com, or better yet on his podcast, The David C. Smalley Show. Links to all that in the show notes as well.
[00:34:58] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own, and I'm a lawyer, but not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found this episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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