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Senator’s claim that toothpaste caused drink drive charge disputed

By Simon Pitman , 04-Jan-2010
Last updated the 04-Jan-2010 at 17:53 GMT

A claim by Massachusetts Senator Anthony Galluccio that the toothpaste ingredient sorbitol caused him to fail random breathalyzer tests has been disputed by experts.

Gaulluccio received his third drink-driving conviction on December 18, 2009 after being accused of fleeing the scene of an accident back in October.

The State court gave Galluccio a six month house arrest and ordered that he submit to random breathalyzer tests in an attempt to assess his bid to stay away from alcohol during his incarceration.

Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol

However, within 72 hours of the conviction four separate breathalyzer tests that were carried out under the court order claimed to have registered alcohol on Galluccio’s breath.

In an attempt to prove his innocence, Galluccio made an official statement claiming that the positive breathalyzer test results were attributable to the ingredient sorbitol, a sugar alcohol mainly used to flavor oral care products such as mouthwash and toothpaste.

It is also used in sugar-free chewing gum, and in particular for a range of brands that have oral care claims.

Sensodyne toothpaste under the spotlight

In his statement, Galluccio said that sorbitol was present in the two oral care products he used regularly - Sensodyne Toothpaste and Colgate Total Whitening – and said that a consultation with a physician had determined the ingredient to be the cause of the positive breathalyzer reading.

Although sorbitol has been linked to gastrointestinal conditions and even irritable bowel syndrome, and can also be used as a laxative, its alcohol content is very mild.

James Herms, a formulator who helped in the development of five Sensodyne toothpaste formulations told the BostonChannel.com that sorbitol ‘is not going to show up’ on a DOT-approved alcohol testing device.

Ethyl alcohol

Herms went on to state that the only oral care ingredient likely to register any significant reading if it were actually swallowed would be ethyl alcohol, which is commonly used in significant quantities for mouth wash formulations.

Joe Dwinell, editor of the Boston Herald was so intrigued by Galluccio’s claim that he decided to take a sorbitol breathalyzer test to see if the Senator’s claims stood up at all.

In his online column, Dwinell said he cleaned his teeth with the same Sensodyne Toothpaste and that a subsequent breathalyzer test showed that trace alcohol readings caused by the sorbitol completely disappeared after just two minutes.

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