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Oh, good old sodium bicarbonate, popping up yet again in home remedies. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of people suggesting swapping out specifically formulated toothpaste in favor of kitchen-beauty favorite: baking soda.
I like baking soda a lot, I really do. Though baking and funky odors in my fridge, it’s really been there for me. And I don’t mean to suggest that baking soda doesn’t have a place in beauty products. But I think that home remedies often oversimplify things so much that beneficial ingredients, such as baking soda, can be easily misused — resulting in more harm than good.
What’s the Deal with Baking Soda and Cleaning Teeth?
Baking soda definitely has its benefits — working as both a mechanical and chemical cleaner in dental products.
Researchers are beginning to point to an acidic pH in the mouth as being a cavity-causing culprit, as a pH of 5.5 to 5 is considered critical for demineralization (CDHA Journal, 2010). It’s been suggested that products with the alkaline baking soda in them (pH 9), particularly rinses, could help keep the mouth at a healthy pH (European Journal of Oral Science, 1996).
And studies comparing non-baking-soda-containing toothpaste with baking-soda-containing toothpastes have found that those that included sodium bicarbonate were better at removing plaque — particularly from tough-to-reach spots (The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 2011). It also works to clean as a chelating agent and as a bactericidal agent against most oral pathogens (Dentifrice Abrasives).
The key is that baking soda was in products. The right formulation with baking soda can be great for preventing stains and keeping the mouth clean. But using baking soda from your kitchen — or even some particular abrasive toothpaste — can be abrasive and can do damage to teeth and gums and increase tooth sensitivity.
And using too-abrasive baking soda without fluoride is a double-whammy for weakened and sensitive teeth.
The Crucial Question: What Is Toothpaste to You?
Let’s get pensive for a moment: What kind of relationship do you want to have with your toothpaste? If you’re thinking of swapping out your teeth’s main squeeze — so to speak — then you want to consider what that product is supposed to do.
Toothpaste, by definition, is supposed to aid in mechanical brushing to remove plaque and bacteria. But toothpaste is so much more than merely “tooth soap.” Some of its key ingredients do more than just a surface clean — and without them, you’d have less hearty teeth and gums.
Fluoride is a big one. It’s been shown for decades to strengthen the enamel of teeth when used within the recommended limits. It does this, in part by affecting plaque volume and plaque bacteria metabolism, but also by shifting the balance of demineralization and remineralization for a less cavity-causing environment (Critical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine, 1991; Journal of Dental Research, 1990).
Other ingredients serve to curb gingivitis, remove tartar (hardened plaque) buildup, and improve bad breath. Abrasives like modified silica can work as a manual cleaner, removing stains on the surface of teeth (American Dental Association). And toothpaste can solve a number of oral issues. For example, my dad has sensitive teeth; because of that, he sticks to Sensodyne Toothpaste for Teeth and Cavity Prevention ($33.96 for pack of 4, amazon.com). Sensodyne contains potassium nitrate, which reduces dentin sensitivity with regular usage (The Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 2005). In vivo studies show that it doesn’t reduce dentin permeability, but animal models show it dulls nerve excitability (The Journal of the American Dental Association, 2006).
So, if your toothpaste does more than mere cleaning, then you probably want to stick with it. And if you’re unhappy with your current toothpaste, consider switching to another formula before giving it up altogether.
What to Do for Pearly Whites?
So, baking soda alone for regular use isn’t recommendable for keeping teeth at their best. If you want to brush with it once in a while, discuss it with your dentist to understand the best way to do it and whether your gums and teeth can withstand its abrasiveness. Dentists generally recommend using toothpaste with fluoride for strong teeth — but that doesn’t mean you can’t have baking soda too.
As far as toothpastes with baking soda and fluoride, the American Dental Association gives two products its seal of approval:
Tom’s of Maine Cavity Protection Baking Soda Fluoride Toothpaste ($12.37 for two, amazon.com)
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Sodium Monofluorophosphate (0.15% w/v Fluoride Ion) (Anticavity)
Inactive Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, Water, Glycerin, Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Carrageenan (Red Seaweed) (Chondrus cripus), Xylitol, Peppermint Oil (Mentha piperita), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (Derived from coconut oil)
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Contains: Sodium Fluoride (0.24%) (Anticavity Toothpaste)
But if you have sensitive teeth, you might want to consider something that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate. I couldn’t find any toothpaste that had fluoride, baking soda, and was SLS-free; but if you choose a toothpaste that doesn’t have baking soda and still want its benefits, you can consult your dentist on the best way to do that.
We’ve recommended Squigle Enamel Saver Toothpaste ($10.15, amazon.com) before because it doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which can be particularly problematic for those with canker sores. This one is quite gentle and also contains enamel-strengthening fluoride.
Ingredients: 0.24% Sodium Fluoride. 36% Xylitol, Plus Water, Silica, Glycerin, Poloxamer, Cellulose Gum, Flavor, Anatase, Methocel®, Glycyrrhizin, Sodium Hydroxide
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Sodium Fluoride (0.243%) (Anticavity)
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Flavor, Titanium Dioxide, Cellulose Gum, PVP, Sodium Saccharin, Sucralose
Is it OK to use baking soda as toothpaste? No. Baking soda can be great as an abrasive agent in toothpaste or as an alkaline rinse for acidic mouths, but pure baking soda is lacking in many ways in terms of oral care and its abrasiveness can cause more harm than good in the long run. If you’re looking for a specific ingredient or want to solve a particular issue, the best person to consult is your dentist, who can help ensure that you have the healthiest teeth you can.