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what you need to know about abrasive toothpastes

Toothpaste is an important part of dental care, but there’s more to toothpaste selection than meets the eye. For most people, any ADA-approved toothpaste is adequate under normal situations. Some toothpastes, however, are significantly more abrasive than others, which can lead to gum pain and tooth sensitivity. If you’re doing everything right, but you’re still experiencing dental discomfort, your toothpaste might be to blame.

What’s In Toothpaste

Most toothpastes contain some kind of detergent, fluoride, abrasives, and flavoring. Some toothpastes focus more on whitening, while others focus more on tartar control, but they all do essentially the same job. The exact ingredients vary, and some brands focus on natural active ingredients, but they play the same roles.

What you won’t find on the label, however, is a quantitative description of how abrasive the paste is. Since the abrasive elements aren’t a medically active ingredient, there’s no regulation controlling the disclosure of how rough a toothpaste is. This isn’t an issue in most cases, since a toothpaste that made everyone’s  gums bleed wouldn’t sell very well, but it can create issues for people with sensitive gums or the tendency to over-brush.

Thankfully there are regulatory limits on how rough toothpaste can be. With a bit of research and a conversation with your dentist, you should be able to find a toothpaste that’s perfect for your oral care routine.

How Abrasiveness is Measured

If you’re searching for a less abrasive toothpaste, look for the relative dentin abrasivity (RDA) rating online. RDA is a scientific measurement of how easily the materials in a toothpaste wear down teeth, as well as plaque and other deposits.

The FDA maintains a recommended RDA of 200, while the ADA recommends a RDA of no higher than 250. In comparison, the most abrasive toothpaste on the market only clocks in at 163 RDA, leaving a fair overhead for customer comfort.

As a loose rule, pastes that are advertized as being stronger or better for tooth whitening are more abrasive, as the abrasive elements remove plaque more efficiently. The cavity-fighting ingredients are typically the same. Despite popular myth, baking soda is one of the least abrasive materials used in dental care; it’s the peroxide it breaks down into that causes enamel loss.

You can check out a scientific breakdown of common toothpastes and their abrasiveness here. More information can be obtained by contacting toothpaste manufacturers directly.

What Happens When Your Toothpaste is Too Abrasive

There are two primary concerns with toothpaste abrasiveness: gum health and tooth wear.

Individuals with sensitive gums can find abrasive toothpastes painful, and in some instances it can even lead to gum bleeding. In the long term this can lead to poor gum health, but the most immediate effect is discomfort and inconsistent habits; people don’t want to do things that hurt!

It’s estimated that up to 20% of Americans over-brush, which, when combined with, overly abrasive toothpastes, can lead to accelerated tooth decay. Over-brushing in this way often leads to asymmetric tooth wear as well, as most people focus on the teeth on their non-dominant side. The resulting imbalance can cause jaw pain and discomfort, and can look unappealing.

If you’re experiencing tooth or gum pain, talk to Dr. Halsema. The fix might be as easy as changing your toothpaste! It’s important to catch dental health issues early, as simple issues can evolve into life-long problems when they’re neglected. Even something as simple as over-brushing and abrasive toothpastes can lead to tooth loss if bad habits are allowed to persist.