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Dear Matthew Alice:

I've heard that toothpaste should not be ingested or it can cause fever, nausea, vomiting and even death. There's even a warning on most toothpaste tubes. Is this like lab rats...you'd have to eat 1000 tubes of toothpaste every day for 20 years?

-- Kent Hill, University City

It's the fluoride, not the toothpaste itself. Pure fluoride is a poison. One part per million is the therapeutic anti-cavity dose considered safe in drinking water; 125 parts per million will make you very sick, but you probably won't end up as a corpse with great teeth. The toothpaste tube warning refers mostly to children. If they ingest three ounces or more of the paste (about a third of a biggish tube), they can be in for trouble. The other big warning about fluoride is political. It is known to give you massive, continual headaches if you try to add it to the public drinking water system.

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