Editors’ note: Please visit https://www.koltorah.org/halachah/do-dental-products-require-a-hechsher-part-i-by-dr-ephraim-rudolph-98 for the first part of this series.
A Continued Discussion of the Year-round Kashrut of Toothpaste
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky suggests that toothpaste does not require a Hechsher because the glycerin within it is not a majority ingredient. The majority of toothpaste consists of non-food items. Therefore, the glycerin is nullified. Rav Yaakov elaborates that even though the Halachah requires a 60:1 ratio of kosher to non-kosher to nullify the non-kosher ingredients (Batel BeShishim), that principle only applies when both ingredients are food. A simple majority of kosher ingredients is needed to nullify the glycerin in the toothpaste.
Rav Yisrael Belsky holds that Rav Kaminetsky’s leniency no longer applies today. After researching various brands, he determined that the majority of toothpaste consists of food ingredients. In Rav Yaakov’s time, the abrasive compound calcium carbonate was the majority ingredient. Nowadays, the major ingredients are water, glycerin and sorbitol-- all food items. The abrasive ingredient has been replaced with silica. Therefore, the majority of ingredients are food-based, and Rav Kaminetsky’s leniency no longer applies.
Rav Shmuel Maybruch suggests that “One might cogently advance a different approach. Although the direct ratio of abrasive to glycerin has greatly changed, toothpaste is still fundamentally a non-food. The addition of even a small amount of silica, a mineral rock, should still warrant categorizing toothpaste as a non-food item. Since it is a non-food, it would governed by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky’s principle that in non-foods a simple majority outnumbering non-kosher is enough to permit it. The abrasive and Halachically neutral ingredients in toothpaste together may be considered a simple majority against the glycerin, rendering all toothpaste kosher.”
In regards to mouthwash, there may be more of a reason to be strict, as more of its ingredients are food-based. If so, then one cannot use it without a Hechsher (Kashrut certification). However, Rav Hershel Schachter and others believe that mouthwash is not a food, and therefore does not require a Hechsher based on the same reasons as above.
Sakanat Eiver: “Heimesh” Toothpaste Brands and Prescription Toothpastes
Based on our discussion, there are those that advocate for a Hechsher on toothpaste. Currently, there is no Hechsher on any of the major toothpaste brands. There are “Heimesh” toothpaste brands (small Chareidi companies) that are sold with a Hechsher; however, their dental effectiveness is yet to be determined. The major toothpaste brands have gone through many years of clinical trials to insure that they help prevent cavities, but the kosher certified brands have no significant research behind them. Additionally, as they are not sold in the major pharmacies, the kosher brands are not easy to obtain. Furthermore, for those living outside the United States, where Kashrut and kosher brands are not as ubiquitous, regular toothpaste may be the only option.
Dentists may prescribe prescription toothpaste with a higher percentage of fluoride to individuals who tend to get many cavities. Those prescription toothpastes do not have a Hechsher, and there is no equivalent kosher brand.
There may be room to suggest another leniency. Toothpaste and mouthwash are really types of medicine. They provide Refuah for the teeth and the gums. Brushing teeth prevents cavities and mouthwash prevents gum disease. Both cavities and gum disease cause tooth loss. Tooth loss will cause a diminished function of the jaw. A circumstance which can potentially result in the loss of function of a limb is called Sakanat Eiver. One is not obligated to lose a limb in order to violate a rabbinic ordinance. If we accept that putting non-kosher food in ones mouth and spitting it out is only a rabbinic prohibition (see Kol Torah Parashat VaYeishev, Volume 28), then it would follow that one could use non-kosher toothpaste. One can violate a rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat in order to save a limb. Even for a Safek Sakanat Eiver, a questionable situation where one is not sure they will lose the limb, one is still allowed to violate a rabbinic prohibition. So too, in this case, where it is not clear yet if the kosher brands are effective, and it is Safek Sakanat Eiver, one should be allowed to use the regular brand toothpastes.
Additionally, the principle of Achshavai does not apply to medicine. See page 22 of Rav Eider’s “Hilchot Pesach”, and Rabbi Jachter’s series published in Volume 14 of Kol Torah, “Medicines that Contain Non-Kosher Ingredients or Chametz” (2005), for a fuller treatment of this issue.
It should be noted that the company Therabreath does in fact have a Hechsher on its mouthwash products. The mouthwash has been clinically tested, and is readily available in local pharmacies and major supermarkets. However, if one is situated in an area where Therabreath is unavailable, one may utilize the leniency of Sakanat Eiver.
Kosher for Passover Toothpaste and Mouthwash
Whether toothpaste and mouthwash require a Hechsher for Pesach is subject to the same discussion. While for most non-kosher food, as long as the food is Nifsal (degraded) to the level of Aino Raui LeAchilat Adam, not fit for human consumption, it is considered inedible and not Biblically prohibited, in regards to the prohibition of Chametz, it has to be Nifsal to the point of Aino Raui LeAchilat Kelev, unfit to eat even for a dog. If food becomes Nifsal that it is unfit even for a dog before Pesach then there is no prohibition of Chametz. There are many authorities who consider dental products to be unfit even for a dog to eat, and therefore do not carry the prohibition of Chametz. There would be no concern for Achshavai for the same reasons as mentioned earlier (Rav Eider Halachos o Pesach pg. 27). But according to those authorities who consider toothpaste and mouthwash as food, then dental products would require a kosher-for-Pesach Hechsher.
Mouthwash containing alcohol is more of a discussion. Rav Eider (ibid.) quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein as maintaining a strict view regarding mouthwash containing alcohol, as some alcohol is Chametz, and some people might distill the alcohol out of the mouthwash to drink. However, many authorities say that mouthwash containing alcohol is not fit for consumption even by a dog, and there is therefore no problem with using it on Pesach.
A very important difference between the prohibition of Chametz and other non-kosher food is that there is also a Biblical prohibition to derive benefit, Hana’ah, from Chametz on Pesach. Dental products do provide Hana’ah. If so, then the food status of dental products is a question that has Biblical ramifications. In regards to everyday use, we explained that the discussion involves only a Rabbinical issue, as the toothpaste and mouthwash are spat out and not consumed. However, in regards to Chametz there is a Biblical prohibition of not deriving benefit, and if dental products are food, even if they are spat out, one would be in violation of a Biblical commandment if used on Pesach. Therefore, on Pesach there may be more of a reason to be strict. Furthermore, one would not be able to utilize the leniencies mentioned earlier, as those would only allow one to violate a rabbinical prohibition-- not a Biblical one. This may be why Rav Moshe Feinstein recommended using kosher for Pesach toothpaste, even though he regarded toothpaste as Aino Raui LeAchilat Kelev (Rav Eider ibid.). In addition, as noted by the first Tosafot to Masechet Pesachim, we are stricter in regards to Pesach as compared to other Mitzvot.