The Main Ingredient For A Healthy Smile

Here's a fun a little game to play with your girlfriends at brunch. Ask them to list off the ingredients in their toothpaste. Then, watch them stare back at you blankly. Blinking.

OK, so maybe this isn't a fun game per se, but it is important to know. Especially because the average person has never looked at what's inside their toothpaste, despite the fact that they ingest it twice a day, every day-probably more than anything else we swallow on a regular basis (you do swallow a little every time you use it). The ingredients inside some commercial brands are of questionable benefit and are just plain bad for you, says Beverly Hills, CA, dentist Harold Katz, DDS.

That's why it's important to be aware (and wary) of the following ingredients:

FD&C blue dye No. 2: A commonly used toothpaste dye, it is one of several on the list of additives to avoid, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It's said to be linked to learning, behavioral and health problems, severe allergic reactions and headaches.

Sodium lauryl sulfate: The American College of Toxicology reports that this ingredient in cosmetics and industrial cleaning agents can cause skin corrosion and irritation. Doses of .8 to 110 grams/kilogram in lab rats caused depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and death in four out of every 20 rats.

Triclosan: An anti-microbial ingredient, the federal Environmental Protection Agency lists triclosan as a pesticide and regulates its use in over-the-counter toothpastes and hand soaps.

Saccharin and aspartame: Both of these artificial sweeteners are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's list of additives to avoid.

Also, keep in mind that sodium lauryl sulfate, a harsh detergent in some toothpastes, has been linked to canker sores. But now that you know, here's to happy (more informed) brushing!

Related:
Ask an Expert: Whitening Toothpastes
A Massage to Protect Against Cavities