Here in the US, there are more than 350 different kinds of toothpaste to choose from, many of them so-called “whitening” toothpastes, containing baking soda, peroxide or some combination of both. If using a small amount helps, wouldn’t it stand to reason that more would make it absolutely sparkle?
As we’ve mentioned before, in and of itself, toothpaste just doesn’t do that much. While it sweetens our breath for a while, its main role is to act as an abrasive. The combination of grit and brushing friction helps remove the biofilm that forms on your teeth between cleanings – colonies of oral microbes, whose acidic metabolic waste causes decay and gum disease. Think of it as pond scum on your teeth. (Pond scum is another kind of biofilm, just like dental “plaque.”)
But you can overdo it.
Too much abrasion for too long can wear down the enamel covering your teeth, eventually exposing the delicate dentin underneath, causing tooth sensitivity and raising the risk of decay. In fact, a 2005 paper published in the International Dental Journal found that “toothpaste abuse” was one of of the main causes of enamel erosion. (The other was “bruxism” – another word for tooth clenching and grinding.) Citing the article in a HuffPo piece last month, Susan Standring quoted its author, Dr. Thomas Abrahamsen:
Patients who abuse toothpaste typically dislike the color of their teeth. These individuals mistakenly believe that the more they brush their teeth, the whiter they will become. Actually the opposite occurs; as the enamel becomes thinner, the dentine is closer to the surface, resulting in a darker overall appearance, which encourages more brushing.
Standring goes on to note that “Dr. Abrahamsen’s study indicates that brushing alone, without toothpaste, does not cause the same degree of wear, nor does the firmness or softness of toothbrush bristles affect the tooth enamel. However, the soft tissue at the gum line can be worn away by vigorous brushing with firm bristles.” (See our previous post on gum recession.)
While the article concludes on an anti-toothpaste note, we wouldn’t go so far as to say it should never be used. In moderation – which is to say, as indicated – it can be helpful. Besides, many enjoy the flavor. What we do recommend is that, if you do use toothpaste, you choose one that’s fluoride- and SLS-free. Two that we consistently recommend are Oxyfresh and the Dental Herb Co.’s Tooth & Gum Paste, which are available through many holistic and biological dental practices, as well as online. There are also many DIY guides online: Just Google the phrase “how to make your own toothpaste.”
But again, toothpaste is a minor player in good oral hygiene at home. What matters most is brushing properly and consistently, as well as flossing and using adjunct cleaning tools such as proxy brushes, perio-aids and oral irrigators – all of which you can learn about here.
Image by Nick Harris1, via Flickr