Toothpaste and Mouth Ulcers – Is There a Link?

Mouth ulcers and other common mouth conditions

Nearly everyone will remember suffering from a mouth ulcer at some point in their lives, whilst around 20% of people experience recurrent mouth ulcers. These have often been linked with anxiety, eating sharp foods which damage the tissue of the mouth and women’s hormonal changes. Certain foods have also been highlighted as triggering mouth ulcers; these include strawberries, cheese and coffee.


Bleeding gums are also a very common condition, again one which most people will experience. It often occurs during brushing where the gums are not as healthy as they could be, and when it occurs alongside inflammation, is generally understood as a sign of gingivitis.

Gingivitis is more commonly known as gum disease. It is generally caused when plaque develops on the teeth, giving bacteria a chance to proliferate and release toxins into your mouth. These toxins then irritate your gums, making them sore and inflamed, and giving you bad breath. Left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition known as periodontitis.

The generally recommended way to solve these conditions is to brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, as well as to floss to keep the areas between your teeth as clean as possible.


Could SLS in toothpaste be to blame?

Whilst this solution does work for many people, some people suffer from recurrent mouth problems despite keeping a good oral health routine. Could it be that there is a link between their toothpaste and mouth ulcers, bleeding gums or gum disease?


There is an ingredient known as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) which is added to many of the toothpastes you will find on your local supermarket shelves. Next time you go shopping, have a look and see just how many of the “leading brands” use it. SLS is used in toothpastes to make them foam when you brush your teeth. 


SLS is also used in a multitude of other toiletries, including shower gels, shampoos and even hand washes, as it is such an effective and cheap foaming agent. Unfortunately, it is also a skin irritant. It is widely recognised as being such and is even used in clinical studies as a standard skin irritant against which other potential irritants are compared.


The mouth is a sensitive area of the body and it is only natural that what can irritate our skins can also irritate our mouths. SLS has been shown to cause damage to oral tissues and reaction to SLS may cause gingivitis, receding gums and canker sores, a type of mouth ulcer.


Given this information, putting SLS in toothpaste doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It also makes a lot of sense that this might be the problem for those who have recurrent oral issues but who maintain a good teeth cleaning routine. 


SLS-free toothpaste gave 60% mouth ulcer reduction

One study, although admittedly very small, found a 60% reduction in ulcers when people with recurrent mouth ulcers switched to using an SLS-free toothpaste. Carried out by a research team from the University of Oslo, this study demonstrates that SLS in toothpaste and mouth ulcers could well be linked.


Whilst this is just one small piece of research, it is indicative of the growing weight behind the idea that toothpaste might be one cause of sore gums, mouth ulcers and gingivitis. SLS is by no means the only cause of these conditions, as oral hygiene certainly has its part to play, but for some it may be the cause of long-standing problems.


More and more people who suffer from these uncomfortable oral conditions are now looking to buy SLS-free toothpaste to see if an SLS reaction is behind their mouth problems.


It is not known how many people have problems with SLS in toothpaste and have sore gums and ulcers as a result. However, buying an SLS-free toothpaste is a very cheap and easy first port of call (after visiting your dentist, of course) if you are looking to find a solution to mouth ulcers or sore gum problems. 


SLS in toothpaste and other toiletries

As mentioned earlier, the SLS in toothpaste is also found in many other toiletries. Its use can lead to skin sensitivity and discomfort in many people, yet it is considered an acceptable ingredient for mainstream skin care and hair care products.


Unfortunately, there are also other chemicals in toiletries which, like SLS, may have negative effects on consumers and thus are worth avoiding. These include parabens, phthalates, DEA, TEA and ethanol. An Australian scientist in 2009 identified ethanol in mouthwash as being a ‘significant risk factor’ for oral cancers, as it helps cancer-causing substances to pass through the lining of the mouth.