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Toothpaste and canker sores: What you need to know

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Chances are the toothpaste in your medicine cabinet contains a pesticide and known mouth irritant called sodium lauryl (or laureth) sulfate, or SLS. And SLS may be causing those painful eruptions on your lips and mouth called canker sores.

Medically called aphthous ulcers, canker sores are small lesions that develop on the soft tissue of your mouth. The precise cause of canker sores is unclear, but mouth injuries, stress, food sensitivities, a depressed immune system and SLS are all suspected.

Most canker sores last from one to two weeks. The following are some natural therapies that may speed the recovery process.

1. Apply a DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) tablet directly to the canker sore and hold it for five to 10 minutes. Chew tablet completely and swallow.

2. Take a B-complex vitamin daily.

3. Rinse your mouth with an oral rinse that contains the following: one cup of warm water, one teaspoon of baking soda, quarter teaspoon of salt and the contents of one capsule of goldenseal herb. Swish as you would a mouthwash for 30 seconds three times daily.

4. Get lots of probiotics. Drink kefir, eat yogurt or take a probiotic supplement.

5. Apply one drop of one or more of the following essential oils a few times daily: peppermint, clove, lemon and Melaleuca alternifolia (commonly known as tea tree oil).

As reported in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, concentrations of SLS as low as 0.5 percent can cause irritation. Avoiding SLS in all your dental products is important in the prevention of cankers.

Some people have experienced significantly reduced outbreaks of canker sores by using a SLS-free toothpaste alone. In fact, a study published in the December 1997 edition of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry observed that switching to a SLS-free toothpaste resulted in a remarkable 70 percent reduction in canker sore occurrence.

All 10 patients in this single-blind, crossover study benefited from the use of a SLS-free toothpaste.

This research confirmed previously reported findings from Department of Oral Surgery and Oral Medicine, dental faculty, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, which showed a 65 percent reduction in canker sores by avoiding toothpastes with SLS.

SLS is a foaming agent and detergent commonly added to shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste, but it is also used as a flea and tick repellant. Sodium laureth sulfate, a close relative of SLS, is also frequently used.

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