Did you know it was possible to have or even develop a toothpaste allergy? I know what you’re thinking, “Wait?! You can be allergic to toothpaste?!” Yep. Not everyone will be, but there are known active ingredients in certain types of toothpastes that can cause issues like itchy gums or skin peeling inside of your mouth. Even if you’re someone who likes using completely organic, all natural products, you can still be allergic to certain toothpaste ingredients. When you put them in your mouth, which by the way is covered in mucosal skin that easily absorbs things, you’ll naturally be more hypersensitive to those products.
The first place you’re probably going to notice a toothpaste allergy is on your gums, right next to your teeth. Especially if you’re brushing your gumlines like you should (since that’s where plaque tends to be the thickest.) Swollen gums can easily get confused with gingivitis because of the redness or swelling involved. But with gingivitis, the irritation tends to be more localized right along the edges of the gums and improves within two weeks of good home care. If it’s a toothpaste allergy, the swelling will be more generalized.
Mouth sores are symptom #2 when it comes to toothpaste allergies. If you tend to get frequent aphthous ulcers (also called canker sores,) it might be from the toothpaste that you’re using. These sores could be at the corners of your mouth, along your lips, inside of your lips, or scattered elsewhere throughout your mouth. Keep in mind that if you have a mouth sore that does not heal within two weeks, you need to see your dentist for a routine oral cancer screening. Normally it’s nothing to worry about, but you would rather be safe than sorry.
Whenever your skin reacts to an allergen, it’s extremely common to feel itching or burning at the point where that allergen came into contact with you. Cinnamon flavoring can intensify the burning sensation while potential allergens may lead to chapped lips or a rash around the mouth. We usually call this “contact dermatitis” and it means that your skin is reacting to something. A classic example of allergic contact dermatitis is when someone who has a latex allergy and doesn’t tell their dentist, then they experience burning or itching where their exam gloves come into contact with their mouth. Oral mucosa (the skin in your mouth) is highly vascular, so it typically reacts quickly when an allergen is introduced.
The “glossitis” mentioned above is a swelling in your tongue and it can be caused by an allergen. Severe glossitis is also a symptom of an anaphylactic attack, which is what you see when someone is having a major allergic reaction to a food like shellfish or peanuts. If you’re hypersensitive to a toothpaste, tongue irritation might occur.
Related: 5 Best SLS-Free Toothpastes
Typically, a reaction to toothpaste is going to come from one specific ingredient inside of the toothpaste you’re using. The most common offenders tend to be one of the following:
CAPB is a very common detergent that you’ll find in everything from makeup removers and shampoo to contact solution and hand soap. It’s derived from coconut oil.
Can you be allergic to fluoride toothpaste? What about calcium or magnesium? Well, if you swallowed a bunch of it, your intestines sure would react! Fluoride in toothpaste is essential for anti-cavity benefits. But there have been some—extremely, extremely rare—noted cases of fluoride allergies.
Propylene glycol is what’s called a “wetting agent” and/or “surfactant.” It’s there to help prevent the liquid and solid ingredients in your toothpaste from separating. On its own, it can be an irritant. If you have super-sensitive skin, you might want to avoid using it.
Are you cautious about using paraben-free shampoo? Well, check your toothpaste too. Parabens help stabilize toothpaste and other products for a longer shelf life to reduce the risk of bacteria inside of them. Since toothpaste may take weeks or months to reach you as a consumer, it’s normal to see parabens included in their formula.
People with IBS, Crohn’s Disease, or who are known to have gluten sensitivities should double-check their toothpaste to see if it’s gluten-free. Why is gluten in toothpaste at all? Because it helps with the texture and to keep a thicker paste-like feel for processing and packaging.
Normally if you’re someone who experiences “contact dermatitis”or "contact allergy"—that is, a skin reaction after an exposure to an allergy—you’re going to see symptoms fairly quickly. It might be within a matter of minutes or even as long as 24-48 hours later (think poison ivy.)
If you’ve recently switched toothpastes and then suddenly or gradually start to experience issues like irritation, swelling, tenderness, or redness, it might be because of the ingredients in the toothpaste you’re using. Take note that sometimes brands will reformulate their toothpaste, and that it’s possible to develop allergies over time. So even if you’ve used a particular toothpaste for 20+ years and you’re just now starting to experience symptoms, you might now have a toothpaste allergy to that favorite brand of yours.
To rule out the toothpaste or anything else, consider brushing with a different type of toothpaste (read the ingredients first) or only brushing with tap water for 10-14 days. Did your symptoms improve? Then it’s probably something in your toothpaste that you were allergic to.
Keep in mind, a toothpaste allergy can easily be confused with a food allergy because both are going straight inside your mouth. For example, if you develop a shellfish allergy at age 30, you might think it’s a toothpaste issue when it really wasn’t. Make sure you’re watching your diet just as much as your oral care products to pinpoint the actual allergen.
The best treatment for most toothpaste allergies is to…get ready…use a different toothpaste. If you having a hard time try finding one switch to a sensitivy or hypoallergenic toothpaste. Honestly, even if you love the toothpaste and your allergic reaction isn’t all that bad, you need to give it up and go with something else. It could get worse over time.
If you have a really bad reaction for some reason, the first thing you need to do is to take an antihistamine like Benadryl. Think of it like your body responding to a bee sting or poison ivy. You’re not going to build up a tolerance to it. You want to figure out what the ingredient is that’s causing your allergic reaction and then use toothpaste that doesn’t contain the same ingredient.
Allergies to toothpaste are more common than you might suspect. Then again, your symptoms could be due to something else entirely unrelated. Try switching brands, reading the label to check for common allergens like SLS or essential oil ingredients you’re sensitive to, and always talk to your dentist in the symptoms persist (especially if you have mouth sores.) Chances are, your dentist or dental professional has seen other patients who, like you, have toothpaste allergies. They can recommend brands that are gentler and hypoallergenic while still enhancing your home care routine!
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