Could your toothpaste be causing your digestive issues?
Updated: Sep 4, 2020
There are a laundry list of potential causes for imbalance of bacteria in your gut (called dysbiosis). This type of imbalance can cause stomach pain and gas plus other stomach problems like constipation, bloating and diarrhea. For those of you that don't know, dysbiosis has been linked to a whole slew of conditions- everything from digestive problems like IBS, SIBO, leaky gut, candida, Crohn's disease, Ulcerative Colitis to Diabetes to obesity and even to our mood and mental health (1). Some of the most common known causes of gut dysbiosis and the digestive issues caused by it include stress, exposure to toxins, certain medications and poor diet. But- what about other causes of ibs or stomach issues? Commonly overlooked factors like oral hygiene need to be considered when determining the root cause of your GI issues. Whenever I work with a new client, I ALWAYS ask about oral hygiene and what products he/she is using. My reason? Our bodies have more than one microbiome- it's not just in our gut. We have microbiome environments in our lungs, on our skin, in our genitals and... in our mouths. In fact, your mouth is the first part of your digestive tract, so it only makes sense that we should be thinking about oral health when evaluating stomach disorders!
There is a theory called the "hygiene hypothesis"- which I happen to be a believer in, personally. This theory states that lack of exposure to important (beneficial) bacteria in our environments- in other words- being "too clean", can actually be detrimental to our health and immune function (2). Specifically, living a life of over-sanitation can negatively impact bacterial balance and function in our intestines. This got me thinking- every day, most of us brush our teeth (twice daily), we floss and then we even use mouth wash, most of which contain sterilizing alcohol. So...can toothpaste cause stomach issues?
While the right dental hygiene regimen for you is up to you and your dentist, I do want to bring attention to the fact that that's a lot of exposure to chemicals and likely to substances called microplastics, which have been found in some animal studies to contribute to gut dysbiosis (3,4). Microplastics are environmental pollutants, the specific compound found to disrupt gut microbiome in the animal studies is called polystyrene MP (3,4). One study found changes in the gut microflora in after just 14 days of exposure to polystyrene MP (3). Two things to note about this is that we don't know if the amount of polystyrene MP in the studies is the same or comparable to the amount found in products like toothpaste, and these are animal studies, so we don't know if the results can be applied to humans yet. However, certainly concerning from my standpoint and something to keep an eye on! Other names for similar plastics in your toothpaste to look for are polyethylene or polypropylene (6). According to the US Household Products Database, many Crest toothpastes appear to contain at least one of these plastics (7).
On the other hand, certain brands of toothpaste have actually shown to beneficial for microflora in the mouth (and hopefully, gut health!). One study found that using toothpaste containing certain enzymes and proteins actually improved certain strains of bacteria that were associated with overall gum health and decreased risk of oral disease (8). This toothpaste is called Zendium and is the exact brand used in the study. While results of this study don't speak directly to gut balance, it's reasonable to assume that if we use a toothpaste that can improve our oral microbiome and don't use a toothpaste that has been linked to disrupt gut flora, we may be decreasing our risk for tummy trouble. Especially since there is research supporting associations between oral health and gut issues, like inflammatory bowel disease (9, 10).
I don't want you to throw out all your toothpaste and oral care products you're using just yet, there are some flaws in the studies I talked about in this post and more research is needed. However, I do want to bring to light just how many chemicals we expose our bodies to every day, even in doing mundane things (which, if you remember, is a risk factor for gut dysbiosis in the first place). So, if you're in the market for a new toothpaste and you think you may be at risk (or even have) gut issues- give this a try! Also, don't forget other ways you can improve your gut health through diet, stress management and adequate sleep!
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Once you've got your toothpaste regimen in order, read about how quickly your gut biome can change in response to diet change! You can also check out my Clear Skin Library for acne + gut friendly recipes, cooking demos & much more!
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1. Singh et al. "Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health". J Transl Med (2017) 15:73
2. Singhal, S., Dian, D., Keshavarzian, A. et al. Dig Dis Sci (2011) 56: 170. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-010-1263-9