Is toothpaste bad for your teeth?
February 6, 2005 2:30 AM   Subscribe

Is toothpaste bad for your teeth? I recall seeing what was maybe a blog entry by some MeFite on his or her personal site that said (following details are sketchy!): toothpaste is bad for your teeth because of the glycerin, which doesn't allow teeth to "re-enamel". This is just from memory, so I may not have stated it correctly, and I can't find the site again. There was much more information that was very surprising to me (including something about flouride making teeth brittle, and also something about fruit), and I'd like to read more about this. Does anyone here recognize this being from your own site? Has anyone else heard of the toothpaste=bad thing?
posted by taz to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Never heard any of that, all I know is I never floss and am very lazy about that brushing every day thing...

I've never had a cavity.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:20 AM on February 6, 2005

In Secret House, David Bodanis says that if you wash your teeth with water thoroughly enough, you don't need to use toothpastes. Amazon's 'Search Inside' should be your friend. Search for toothpaste. He describes the ingredients from Page 11-14.
posted by Gyan at 5:52 AM on February 6, 2005

I was half-listening to the radio in the car one day, and caught the tail end of a snippet on the John Tesh Radio Show (don't laugh) wherein somebody recommended brushing your teeth with bar soap (like Ivory) instead of toothpaste. They mentioned that it would make teeth whiter and they said something about the enamel, but I didn't quite catch what. So I've definitely heard something against toothpaste, but I'm not that useful with the details.
posted by Nedroid at 6:26 AM on February 6, 2005

My extensive research (on me) seems to show that an ingredient in almost every toothpaste (sodium laurel sulfate) causes or contributes to the formation of canker sores in my mouth. For about a year I've been using toothpaste w/o this substance and am canker-sore free. Ymmv. Have only found two types w/o SlS.
posted by Hobgoblin at 6:52 AM on February 6, 2005

this is what you're looking for probably, 'cause i found it the same way (via a mefite's blog entry).
posted by ifjuly at 6:54 AM on February 6, 2005

That's exactly it, ifjuly, thanks! I'm very curious about these claims.
posted by taz at 7:56 AM on February 6, 2005

Hobgoblin, I'm in the same boat. What toothpaste are you using? I've just been Listerine-ing and brushing.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:24 AM on February 6, 2005

From ifjuly's link:

The best available data indicates about 120,000 cancer patients are killed annually because of fluoride in their drinking water. These include patients with every type of cancer. The dramatic increase of cancer cases in the US in recent times can probably be laid directly on the shoulders of the dentists due to their tireless energies in converting city councils to put fluoride in the water for "the children's teeth." They are able to do this because of large government grants. It is irrational to believe just "anything" in the environment causes cancer. The unique character of fluoride ion in destroying enzymes deserves attention.

posted by Gyan at 8:24 AM on February 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

You forgot: fluoridation is a communist plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids.
posted by aramaic at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2005

there have been anti-fluoride pages on the 'net since time immemorial. the american dental association addresses the issue here, but no doubt they're under the evil nfluence of the fluoride manufacturers...
posted by andrew cooke at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2005

My dentist told me that bleaching systems make teeth more brittle. Something about the weakening the enamel.

Also, he recommended using the tartar control toothpaste once every few days. I forget the reasoning behind that though.
posted by Tacodog at 9:25 AM on February 6, 2005

My dental hygenist (and my dentist) advised me to not use any toothpaste that was whitening, or contained peroxide. Whitening toothpastes often contain extra abrasives which over time will erode your enamel. Peroxide is just pain tough on your gums.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:35 AM on February 6, 2005

Years ago I got in the habit of brushing my teeth during the drive to my job by working up a good batch of saliva, brushing, then spitting out the window. I still do it at home (except I use water, not spit, and I don't spit out the window). I haven't used toothpaste in years nor had dental problems. However now my breath is never minty fresh.

re-enameling: There is conflicting information about whether it occurs and if so, to what extent. Does anyone know the answer to this?

aramaic: have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
posted by TimeFactor at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2005

I've been told by my dentists that if you brush too vigorously, and too much, you'll actually wear down the enamel--regardless of what kind of toothpaste.
posted by amberglow at 9:52 AM on February 6, 2005

Unfortunately, anecdotal claims of "I do X (for years!) and I've never had any problems" are useless when it comes to dentistry. Some people just don't have any problems.
posted by Caviar at 9:59 AM on February 6, 2005

robocop, do you find the Listerine is helping reduce the number of canker sores? I always figured that any sort of alcohol-based mouthwash might be too harsh and would actually increase the occurrence of cankers.
posted by bachelor#3 at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2005

This article from Conscious Choice (free monthly magazine in Chicago) has more information about that. It's pretty interesting.

A friend of mine has just discovered that she is allergic to sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. I can't seem to find any toothpastes that don't contain either of those, though.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:09 AM on February 6, 2005

Is toothpaste bad for your teeth?

With normal brushing and a normal toothpaste: No.

Are there cranks out there who make up arguments and facts out of whole cloth? Yes.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:10 AM on February 6, 2005

I switched to this toothpaste when I was having a problem with perioral dermatitis (acne around mouth), which can be worsened by Sodium Laurel Sulfates. It was pricey, but a pea size amount is all it takes and so the tube lasts *forever*. I have gotten used to the taste, and now regular toothpaste seems way too sweet. Oh yeah, I had problems with sensitive teeth and it went away shortly after I started using this. It seems I have heard that Sodium Laurel Sulfates are not used in other countries because of problems. Here in the US it's in most products, (foaming agent, I think).
posted by 6:1 at 10:17 AM on February 6, 2005

That Dr. Judd at ifjuly's link needs to work on his arguments. They make sense on their surface (e.g. "if bacteria can eat enamel, then why do they not eat the teeth of dead animals/people?"), but when you think about it just a little bit they fall apart.

I believe he is right that acids are bad for your teeth. I'm pretty sure he's wrong that bacteria and sugar have no effect. Bacteria eat sugar, so the more sugar you have lingering in your mouth the more bacteria will grow. Many bacteria, I believe, use external digestion: they secrete acids and enzymes to break down surrounding food, which also damage your teeth.

So, IANAD, but this guy is full of shit.
posted by breath at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2005

I've been told by my dentists that if you brush too vigorously, and too much, you'll actually wear down the enamel--regardless of what kind of toothpaste.

This is absolutely true, I am very sad to admit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:20 AM on February 6, 2005

Breath, you're on the right track. What microbiologists say is that the bacteria in your mouth ferment the sugars from what you ate (there isn't quite enough oxygen between the teeth and down in the gums for aerobic respiration which would make only carbon dioxide and water). Byproducts of fermentation are usually acidic. The acid destroys the enamel. This leads to cavities. This is also why dentists tell you not to eat sweets.

A microbiologist dentist I once knew was asked the question of "which toothpaste is best?" He said that for dental health, people should really use the sonicating toothbrushes. The soundwaves rip the bacterial cells into little shreds so, of course, they are dead and no longer produce the acids and enzymes. If you take a toothpick to make a smear of what's growing between your teeth and look at it with a microscope, you can clearly distinguish people who use sonicators from people who don't. So to solve the original problem without answering the question, you could just use baking soda and a sonicator.
posted by arabelladragon at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2005

So to solve the original problem without answering the question, you could just use baking soda and a sonicator.

I love my sonic toothbrush, its the greatest. My dentist guessed I was probably using one on my first post-sonic-toothbrush visit. If I remember, the instructions that came with it, while not outright in saying that toothpaste was unnecessary , seemed to downplay its importance. Also, supposedly direct contact between the brush and the teeth are unnecessary, as it is the soundwaves and not friction (mentioned above) that matter. I still touch my teeth (it just feels right), but if that's true, then you could probably save some wear and tear on your enamel, right?
posted by Boydrop at 12:58 PM on February 6, 2005

Also, supposedly direct contact between the brush and the teeth are unnecessary, as it is the soundwaves and not friction (mentioned above) that matter.

Actually, as a SoniCare convert, what's happenning is that the rapid movement causes the water (or saliva) to do the cleaning, very similar to a water pick. The ultra-sonic technology just means that the head can vibrate very quickly. It's not like you're zapping your teeth with specialness. And you're right: it's not necessary to touch your teeth at all, and in fact this is counter-productive to the cleansing action of the toothbrush. Also, water (or saliva) is key. The SoniCare will not be effective with a dry mouth (which basically turns it into a run-of-the-mill electric toothbrush).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2005

Any link to a sonic toothbrush? I've never heard of such a thing. Sounds interesting.
posted by sic at 4:07 PM on February 6, 2005

Robocop: Sorry for the delay - I had stuff to do. The toothpaste I use is Arm & Hammer's "ADVANCE WHITE" for sensitive teeth. My hygienist tells me it's OK for me to use it full-time. As I say, it seems to be working for me. Now, if the whitener is ruining the enamel...
posted by Hobgoblin at 5:06 PM on February 6, 2005

People do tend to use way more toothpaste than they need. The box shows a huge curlicue of toothpaste on the brush so people put that on when all you need is a pea-sized glob.
posted by kindall at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2005

Any link to a sonic toothbrush? I've never heard of such a thing. Sounds interesting.

Sonicares are the only ones I know of. The mechanism utilizes two small resonating blocks of something (don't know what, but they feel like some kind of ceramic), and the handle part emits some special high frequency that causes them to oscillate. Something like that. Anyway, the cool part is that the head unit is separate from the battery unit, which allows them to built a completely waterproof enclosure. It also charges through some kind of force-field system where you don't have to plug it in, you just place the toothbrush in a holder (no metal connections at all). It's pretty cool, but really expensive.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:06 PM on February 6, 2005

Oral-B also has a sonic toothbrush.
posted by kindall at 9:40 PM on February 6, 2005

Thanks for the info, everybody... And I think I'll try to get one of those sonic toothbrushes, even though it's going to stretch the budget at the moment.
posted by taz at 3:12 AM on February 7, 2005

Sonicare now has a bunch of models, including a high end one with a battery juice indicator. They use NiCad batteries, which have a memory, and I've replaced mine several times, for what I suspect was battery-flameout.
Also, it may tickle until you get used to it, the fancier ones have a high & low switch or a 14 day run-up to full power. You will get used to it, though, faster than you'd think.
They're a little noisy through bone conduction, but you'll get used to that too.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:20 AM on February 7, 2005

bachelor#3, I get many, many fewer cankers with Listerine than I did with Scope. The antibacterial aspect of the mouthwash helps clean those nicks and cuts that usually bloom into owchies.

Hobgoblin, thanks for the info!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:17 AM on February 7, 2005

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