No household is complete without a basic toiletry, toothpaste. Although the use of modern forms of toothpaste became widespread by the early 20th century, tooth applications in crude forms have existed for hundreds of years. Today, toothpastes have come a long way and its manufacturing process is fairly sophisticated.
Toothpastes, even the simplest kinds, contain numerous substances. Moreover, manufacturing companies nowadays are constantly looking for ways to improve the marketability of their products and try to develop great tasting pastes with new and creative flavors. It is therefore important to examine whether those substances could pose any kashrus concerns.
Toothpastes consist of several components, primarily abrasives, binders, humectants, fluorides, water, and flavors. Abrasives are ingredients present in toothpaste that rid teeth of plaque, binders thicken the paste, while humectants retain water and prevent the solid and liquid components of toothpaste from separating. Examples of commonly used abrasives include calcium carbonate (chalk), hydrated silica, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). A very common binder is carrageen, which is derived from moss. Examples of commonly used humectants include sorbitol and glycerin.
The most kashrus sensitive ingredient often found in toothpaste is glycerin, which is often animal based, and usually makes up one third of the product. Unquestionably, glycerin without a hechsher should be assumed non-kosher. Nevertheless, Rav Yackov Kaminetzky zt’l ruled that toothpastes containing glycerin were permissible since the primary ingredient in toothpaste was calcium carbonate, which is inedible. Rav Yackov reasoned that the requirement of requiring 60 times the amount of heter in proportion to issur (bitul bishishim) did not apply to a non-food item. Since calcium carbonate constituted a majority of the paste, the glycerin would be nullified based on the principle of bitul berov1. Nonetheless, the manufacture of toothpaste has changed since Rav Yackov’s psak. Calcium carbonate generally is no longer used, and the most common abrasive today is hydrated silica. Hydrated silica is also inedible, but usually only composes one fifth of toothpaste. Typically, the majority of raw materials in toothpaste are edible. Seemingly, Rav Yackov’s heter would not apply in most instances.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt’l wrote a teshuva about this issue, also taking a lenient position, albeit with different reasoning2. Rav Frank argued that since toothpaste is not a pleasant tasting substance, any non-kosher derivatives present in toothpaste are no longer considered edible and should be permitted. This is correct even in instances when the taste of the mixture is not exceedingly unpleasant, provided that the majority of ingredients in that mixture are kosher. However, if the majority of ingredients are non-kosher, the mixture must have an exceedingly bad taste to be permitted. Otherwise, it is prohibited miderabbanan3. However, the Pischei Teshuva4 quotes the Tzemach Tzedek (Talmid HaTaz), who writes that it is permissible to taste something that is prohibited miderabbanan5. Although the Noda BeYehuda limits the Tzemach Tzedek’s leniency to instances when the prohibited substance is not pleasant tasting and not swallowed6, the Tzemach Tzedek’s ruling would still be applicable. This is because unpleasant tasting toothpaste is not swallowed, but is rather spit out after brushing. Though the Rema7 and Shach8 write that it is prohibited to taste ma’acholes assuros even when not swallowed, Rav Frank postulated that there should be a distinction within this halacha between issurei deoraisa and issurei derabbanan. A line of reasoning similar to Rav Frank was suggested by Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin zt’l, who also permitted toothpaste containing non- kosher derivatives9.
Fluoride and other common raw materials present in toothpaste generally do not present a kashrus concern. However, nowadays toothpastes can be found in multiple varieties and flavors. The flavor industry in general is highly complicated. Flavors can be derived from just about anything, including different non-kosher sources. There is a general dispute amongst contemporary Rabbonim how to approach the kashrus status of flavors. Some contend that non-kosher components should render a flavor non-kosher, while others contend that most flavors are kosher bedieved due to its complex chemistry10.
Either way, the presence of flavors in toothpaste certainly make the paste more palatable. Despite that fact that excessive intakes of toothpaste will make one nauseous, its taste in small quantities can be quite refreshing. As a result, many rabbonim advise that one should only purchase toothpaste with a proper hechsher. However, other rabbonim disagree and contend that the taste of toothpaste, even with the presence of flavors, is still less than tasty and the leniency of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank still applies. Nevertheless, if glycerin is present in tasty toothpaste, it would certainly seem to be problematic. This may very well be the case with some forms of children’s toothpaste.
The discussion about toothpaste, seemingly applies equally to mouthwash as well. Mouthwash can also contain glycerin and various flavors, which gives the wash a refreshing taste. On this basis, some contend that mouthwash should be viewed as a food item, while others disagree. Fortunately, the presence of glycerin appears to be less common in mouthwash than toothpaste. However, it is becoming increasingly less common to be find unflavored mouthwash on the market.
The issues above are very serious, and consumers should not hesitate to consult their rabbonim for direction.
1 Emes LeYackov-Shulchan Aruch p. 307
2 Shut Har Tzvi Yoreh Deah 95
3 Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 103:2
4 Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 98:1
5 Shut Tzemach Tzedek 47
6 Shut Noda BeYehuda II Yoreh Deah 52
7 Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 108:5
8 Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 108:5, Shach 24
9 Teshuvos Ibra 47. However, Rav Henkin was not willing to extend this leniency to pastes containing glycerin, and limited his position to only other non-kosher ingredients possibly found in toothpaste.
10 Based on zeh v’zeh gorem. Pesachim 26b