Toothpaste Secrets Part I

Barbara Tritz
· January 13, 2015 ·

5 minutes

“What toothpaste do you recommend?”  I’ve been asked that question so often, I thought it time to address it and other toothpaste issues.  Madison Avenue may not like what I have to say.

Here’s the First Secret:

Toothpaste does NOT remove plaque, and it does not make your teeth clean.  

Ouch ! Bet you thought otherwise.  Plaque is a sticky slime-filled biofilm that wants desperately to live undisturbed on your teeth.  I go into great detail about plaque in my post  It’s all About the Plaque, (No Tartar).  The only way to get plaque off your teeth and out of your mouth is by rubbing it off.  Toothpaste is a “nice to have item”.   It makes your mouth taste good.  (It does do other good things which I’ll get to in part II next week.)  But, it is not soap, and does not repeal or remove plaque by itself, and it does absolutely nothing to tartar.  Toothpaste is mostly cosmetic.  It is the holder of the toothbrush (that’s you) that determines the plaque removal.  Moving the brush over all the tooth surfaces, as well as the tongue, roof of mouth, and cheeks, slowly, carefully, for enough time, often enough is the key to getting plaque out of your mouth.  Plaque is just like the pink slime in the shower- gotta rub it off.  No toothpaste can do that, regardless of what Madison Avenue says.

Secret Number Two:

Most toothpaste is too abrasive and does more damage than good.

Right handed people have abrasion on the upper left side

Toothpaste abrasiveness is measured by something we call it’s “Radioactive Dentin Abrasive Index” or RDA number. Every FDA approved toothpaste has an RDA number.   I recommend you stay with toothpaste with an RDA number below 80.  Anything above this number is too abrasive.  The ADA and FDA suggest numbers as high as 200 to 250 are okay.  In my opinion, that’s too high and could be damaging to your teeth and to the gums or other soft tissues in your mouth.
Research shows that 50% of toothpaste abrasion damage occurs in the first 20 seconds of brushing. And since we have a pattern of brushing, always starting in the same place, damage occurs.   Big brushes, hard brushes, and abrasive toothpastes all contribute to this.

Click here to see a list of Toothpaste RDA numbers.  This does appear to be an older list so if you have a question about your favorite toothpaste, call the company.  Ask’em!

Secret Number Three:

Whitening toothpastes don’t actually change the color of your teeth and whiten them. 

Whitening toothpaste is just really abrasive and removes tooth surface– think rubbing compound for your car.  It can make your teeth more sensitive.   Whitening toothpastes are okay for occasional use, and may help keep control of tea and coffee stain.  I would not use them every day.   If you want a whiter smile, come see your favorite dental hygienist!  I’ll help you have a pearly white smile!  Here’s a sample of RDA numbers:
Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel 117
Colgate Whitening 124
Crest Extra Whitening 130
Ultra Brite 133
Crest MultiCare Whitening 144
Colgate Baking Soda Whitening 145
Pepsodent 150
Crest Pro Health 160 to 190
Secret Number Four:

Use only a pea-sized dab of tooth paste, not the Dairy Q Swirl.

You do not need that big glob of toothpaste.  If half is falling in the sink you really are using too much!  Just a pea-sized amount is truly enough to do the job. Children under age five only need a smear.  Again, remember, it’s abrasive.  You’ll get just as much benefit out of a small amount of toothpaste, and it’ll foam less.  Research shows that people manually brush for 30 to 45 seconds, foam (like a rabid dog), then spit and rinse.  Done in under 45 seconds.  Wow, the problem is your teeth can not possibly be clean in that time period.  That would  mean each tooth surface had contact with the brush for no more that 3.7 seconds.  Even with an electric toothbrush, you can not be that great a brusher.  Trust me when I say: your teeth are not clean.

Secret Number Five:

Toothpaste foam tricks your tongue into thinking your teeth are clean.

Foam is made by a product in the tooth paste called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS.  SLS is a soap. and it numbs your tongue and tricks you into thinking your teeth feel clean.  I know I said toothpaste is not a soap- the soap part of SLS is not strong enough to break up the biofilm slime on your teeth.    If it were, it would also destroy your gums as well, another ouch!  The extra foaming action was added to meet consumer demand.

Secret Number Six:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate can cause mouth sores.

SLS can indeed be the cause your canker sores.  Many people are sensitive to it.  Often, I’ll see tissue sloughing as well.  When I see these oral issues, my first suggestion is to try a toothpaste without this ingredient.   Here’s a quick list of SLS free pastes, but I am sure there are others as well.

  • Tom’s of Maine toothpaste (Clean and Gentle or Botanically Bright)
  • Burt’s Bee Natural Toothpaste
  • Auromere SLS Free Herbal Toothpaste
  • Rembrandt Premium Whitening Mint Toothpaste
  • Cardamon-fennel Herbal Toothpaste
  • Sensodyne ProNamel Mint Essense Toothpaste
  • Jason Natural Power Smile
Secret Number Eight:
Brushing right after eating or drinking something acidic can cause toothbrush abrasion and further damage the tooth surface. 
The acid from foods, drinks, or  reflux weaken the enamel rods in the outer layer of the tooth.  It can even drive acid into the enamel, and the dentin (the next layer of the tooth).  If you have something acidic in your mouth- rinse with water.  If possible, do a baking soda rinse- one part baking soda/ eight parts water.  This will help raise the pH and neutralize the acidic environment in your mouth. DO NOT BRUSH for at least 30 minutes.
 Secret Number Nine:

 Fluoride effectiveness in toothpaste decreases over time.

That Costco sized tube may not be your best purchase.  It loses it’s fluoride effectiveness with time and exposure to the other ingredients in the tube.
There is an expiration date on the tube.  Generally you have two years from the time of manufacture so smaller size tubes will give you the most fluoride cavity fighting bang for your buck.

My Bottom Line: Get the plaque off, any way you can.  You don’t need toothpaste.

My secret 😉

DRY BRUSH-no toothpaste, no water.  Manually brush until your teeth feel and taste clean.  Then a little toothpaste dab’ll do ya (with your electric toothbrush),  brush that in, spit, don’t rinse.

Remember to clean in-between too!

The drama continues next week in  Part II of Toothpaste Secrets.  We’ll go over how toothpaste does heal beginning cavities, helps reduce  gum disease, what’s in tartar control pastes, as well as my ideal toothpaste.

Stay tuned!
Thanks so much for reading.  Stay warm and keep smiling,


Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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