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- In 1997, the FDA started requiring fluoride toothpastes to include a warning advising people to seek professional help if they swallow more toothpaste than they used for brushing. A recent social media post falsely suggests that’s a new public health warning.
Fluoride has long been good fodder for misinformation on the internet. Among the claims we’ve previously debunked: that fluoride added to drinking water is toxic and that the process of adding fluoride to water originated with the Nazis.
We’ve also fact-checked and found Mostly False the claim that toothpaste contains "the poison substance of fluoride." Many toothpaste brands contain fluoride, a substance known to prevent cavities. But because fluoride can cause illness if ingested alone, such products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which limits how much fluoride is allowed.
So we were intrigued by a recent Facebook post that is being shared widely online.
"Public health warning issued for fluoride toothpaste," the June 6 post said. "Avoid these brands at all costs."
That’s also the title of a blog post the Facebook poster provided a link to.
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
First, the blog post is from August 2018, which would make this warning nearly four years old. But reading the post, it becomes clear that the blog is talking about a warning label that the FDA started requiring on fluoride toothpaste in 1997.
"According to the CDC, children should use no more than a pea-sized amount and kids younger than 3 should use no more than the size of a rice grain," the blog post says. "The warning by the agency has to do with the fluoride most conventional toothpaste brands contain. If you look closely, you will notice that fluoride toothpastes have a warning on their label stating ‘If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately.’"
General warnings started appearing on toothpaste tubes in 1991, cautioning people not to swallow toothpaste and to "use only a pea-sized amount for children under age 6," according to the Washington Post.
The FDA warning that followed in 1997 was "not because some new study suggested more serious side effects," the New York Times said at the time, "but because it believes that any product that contains a substance classified as a drug should be labeled with a recommendation to seek professional help in cases of excess ingestion."
PolitiFact looked at a recently-purchased fluoride toothpaste from Colgate and saw this warning: "Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away."
Of course, people generally don’t eat and swallow toothpaste. But as we’ve previously reported, even if they did, it would take a massive amount to be at risk from fluoride poisoning, and experts say children would vomit out the toothpaste long before that point.
This post gives the misleading impression that a recent public health warning was issued for fluoride toothpastes, but that’s not the case. Rather, 25 years ago the FDA started requiring companies to put a warning on such products to advise people to seek help if they swallow more toothpaste than was used to brush their teeth.
We rate this post False.
Facebook post, June 6, 2022
Blog post, Aug. 19, 2018
PolitiFact, Milwaukee alderman says fluoride in toothpaste is a poison, July 9, 2012
The Washington Post, CONSUMMATE CONSUMER, June 16, 1997
The New York Times, Toothpaste a Hazard? Just Ask the F.D.A., March 24, 1998
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