For as long as we can remember, we’ve used toothpaste on a regular basis. But never asked why. We can talk about how brushing with toothpaste helps scrub off the plaque build-up on the surface of the teeth. Or how it helps our saliva wash any stray sugars that oral bacteria can convert into acid. But what’s in toothpaste? And how does it work?
Before we get into this, let’s first ask: why do we use toothpaste in the first place? Humans have been using toothpaste longer than they’ve been using toothbrushes, but why? The first toothpaste was more abrasive than their modern counterparts. Dr. Thomas P. Connelly, DDS notes in his Huffington Post article that Ancient Egyptians made use of “dental creams” around 3000-5000 BC. This cream made use of things like ox hooves and pumice, which helped scrape away plaque. The Greeks and Romans then added to these abrasive elements with crushed shells and bones. Since the creams already did their part, there was no need for brushes to help scrape the gunk further.
As times progressed and needs changed, however, the abrasive element did more harm than good. Eventually, the need for toothbrushes flourished, and toothpaste became smoother in texture. What it did lack in harsh agents, however, it made up for in antibacterial and fortifying agents.
Toothpaste is important for various reasons. Specifically, it promotes oral hygiene and aids in removing dental plaque and food from the teeth. It also helps fight bad breath. Additionally, toothpaste provides fluoride for teeth. Thus, it prevents tooth decay and oral health problems like gum disease.
All this considered, let’s look further into what toothpaste consists of and how they work:
Toothpaste Targets Oral Problems
As contemporary times rolled on, new issues came to surface. For one, modern diets often contained more additives, which in turn provided more fuel for bacteria to work with. For another, new oral ailments began to surface, which toothpaste attempted to remedy. It’s for this reason why current toothpaste has the ingredients they do.
Previously, we did a brief breakdown of the common ingredients found in toothpaste. In a nutshell, they are:
- A whitening agent
- A detergent
- An agent to help sensitive teeth
How do these Ingredients Work?
Whitening agents are abrasive, as they scour the surface of the tooth enamel. As we mentioned in a previous article, teeth can discolor as a result of debris deposits in the enamel pores. These deposits can come from an array of compounds found in tobacco, wine, or tea. What whitening agents do, then, is break down these deposits. For commercial toothpaste, this is typically hydrogen peroxide.
Detergents cleanse the teeth of plaque build-up by breaking its surface tension. In toothpaste, this is usually lauryl glucoside. Other brands have come up with alternatives to counteract its allergenic effects.
Fluoride, as previously discussed, helps in preventing repeat instances of tooth decay. It does this by binding with other compounds in the teeth, fortifying them against bacterial acid attacks. It’s strange to think, then, that it was only during the 50s and 60s that fluoride became a standard for all toothpaste.
Tooth sensitivity has become more widespread in recent years, which is why some toothpaste contains ingredients that help alleviate the condition. These include stannous fluoride and potassium nitrate, among others.
Ask yourself: What do I need from my toothpaste?
Examine the particularities of your teeth and gums. Considering these needs, then look for the toothpaste most suitable. If you are aiming for stronger teeth and cavity prevention, choose a toothpaste with fluoride as its active ingredient. You can find it under the names sodium fluoride, sodium mono fluorophosphate, or stannous fluoride.
For individuals with sensitive teeth, look for pastes with strontium chloride or potassium nitrate. Toothpaste with these substances are ideal for people whose teeth are sensitive to temperature changes or hypersensitivity. Potassium nitrate in specific relaxes the teeth’s nerves.
Toothpaste with carbamide peroxide or hydrogen, a bleaching agent, can help in prolonging tooth-whitening done by a professional. Whitening toothpaste contains abrasives and ingredients that can remove stains on the teeth’s enamel. To reduce gingivitis, you can look for tooth pastes with chlorhexidine or essential oils.
Do not be enticed by words you see on the box or hear in commercials. Look at the ingredients and the features of the toothpaste. It is also important that the toothpaste has American Dental Association (ADA) approval. This ensures that it is safe for the teeth and provides the features that they claim.
And although price must not be the primary consideration in choosing toothpaste, be careful of cheaper toothpaste sold at discount or dollar stores. These may not be as effective in protecting your pearly whites. These toothpastes may contain less essential ingredients. Many of them are also not ADA-approved, are close to expiration, contain a harmful ingredient, or may have lower levels of tooth-healthy ingredients such as fluoride.
Is Brushing With Baking Soda Harmful?
When it comes to natural tooth whitening, baking soda reigns supreme. Just search, “how to whiten your teeth naturally.” You’re bound to find different sites advocating the benefits of sodium bicarbonate among the mix of peppermint oils and hydrogen peroxides. This is no surprise. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is seen as one of the most effective ways to whiten one’s teeth among a slew of prescriptions. And it’s also very versatile as well—you can mix it with either water, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or coconut oil. But like with all natural methods, there’s always a risk of damaging your teeth. So, is brushing with baking soda harmful? And can baking soda hurt your enamel?
Perhaps it’s a good time to note that sodium bicarbonate, when used sparingly, isn’t something to be worried about. Mixed with the right ingredients—or even on its own—you could still get the tooth whitening results you want without too much damage to the tooth enamel. Nonetheless, it still has its pros and cons. And sometimes, the cons weigh more heavily if not done correctly.
So, is brushing with baking soda harmful? And can baking soda damage enamel? Let’s look closer.
How Does Baking Soda Whiten Teeth?
Sodium bicarbonate works to remove stains from teeth on two levels. On the first level are surface stains, which are usually removed by scrubbing off the topmost surface of the tooth enamel. The nature of baking soda presumably takes out pesky stains by cleansing the sufrace.
Sodium bicarbonate has an abrasive nature thanks to the way it is structured. When you brush your teeth with baking soda, you mainly scrub off any of the stain-causing agents before they have a chance to stick to your tooth enamel. If you enjoy coffee, tea, or red wine, brushing your teeth with baking soda can be an excellent way to ensure they don’t stain your teeth in the process.
Aside from its abrasive nature, baking soda’s alkaline composition can also help break down the stains from teeth. When they come into contact with the stain-causing particles, they can loosen the particles and make them easier to brush off.
At a glance, then, baking soda seems like a great cost-efficient alternative to tooth whitening. So why is brushing with baking soda harmful?
Is Brushing with Baking Soda Harmful?
Can baking soda damage enamel? Yes, it can. What might be sodium bicarbonate’s strengths can also be a source of weakness. While its abrasive nature is what helps scour out surface stains from teeth, overuse could lead to enamel wear. And when your enamel wears down, it becomes susceptible to bacterial attacks and other problems, including dental injuries.
But that’s not the only problem sodium bicarbonate tooth whitening poses. If paired with another substance of abrasive nature, it could double the damage done to your tooth enamel. And if you’re wearing braces or a retainer, using it could soften the glue and push back your progress.
So, if you do decide to jump onto the baking soda train, made sure you take extra precautions. And always use fluoride toothpaste after.
What about Toothpaste Tablets?
According to Forbes, Bite began when founder Lindsay McCormick found a lack of convenient yet eco-friendly alternatives to traditional toothpaste. The idea of sustainable toothpaste tablets came to her while looking for options. After taking online chemistry courses and talking to various dentists, she eventually came up with the first Bite tablets. From an audience of friends and family, the business eventually boomed when a video on her creations turned viral.
For Bite, however, the idea of sustainable toothpaste tablets don’t stop at—well, the fact that they’re toothpaste tablets. While these low waste toothpaste alternatives are convenient and eco-friendly in themselves, Bite tries to go the extra mile by making all its processes reduce waste. Whether that means using vegan-friendly ingredients or shipping with paper instead of plastic, these no-packaging toothpaste tablets leave less of a carbon footprint than your conventional toothpaste does.
But what does this mean for oral care as we know it? And why is this important?
A Mix of Convenience and Sustainability
In a way, Bite’s sustainable toothpaste tablets solve two pressing issues, of course, with one matter weightier than the other.
Traveling with oral hygiene products is never the most comfortable thing, particularly if you need to get them past the TSA. And while other innovations have come to the fore—tiny toothbrushes, for instance, and smaller toothpaste tubes—there’s still the issue of messiness and carrying the right size of toothpaste on the airplane.
Then, more obviously, there’s the problem of reducing waste. While other alternatives may provide a semblance of convenience, ultimately, they contribute to more landfill. And the more stuff that goes into the dump, the more trash we have with time.
Bite’s sustainable toothpaste tablets, then, manage to marry both function with an eco-friendly initiative. Because they’re solid, you won’t have to worry about carrying them past TSA screening. And they don’t cause much of a mess as compared to a toothpaste tube.
But aside from spilling toothpaste all over your belongings, these low-waste toothpaste tablets also solve other pressing issues. Instead of adding more tiny toothpaste cases into the trash, they reduce waste by eliminating the need for the tube altogether. And they’re especially helpful when water is scarce. With a wet toothbrush in tow, one small tablet should suffice an entire brushing session.