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Your toothpaste has a very important job to do. It needs to work in conjunction with your toothbrush to thoroughly clean your mouth. Without your toothpaste and your toothbrush, plaque and tartar will build up on your teeth. This buildup has the potential to cause serious damage which may, in some cases, be irreversible. 

Almost all toothpastes use abrasive ingredients to help give your mouth a good scrub. Some toothpastes are more abrasive than others, and this is something that most consumers don’t realize or aren’t aware of. In some cases, toothpastes can be far too abrasive. Abrasive toothpastes can be a serious problem. 

Before you brush your teeth again, make sure you aren’t harming them by using the wrong toothpaste. The wrong toothpaste can do just as much damage as failing to brush your teeth at all. 

What is an RDA Value?

RDA stands for Relative Dentin Abrasivity. The RDA scale is a scale that is used to measure how abrasive a toothpaste is. A rating of 70 or below suggests that a toothpaste is only mildly abrasive, which is the ideal range. A rating between 70 and 100 is a medium abrasive, 100 to 150 is highly abrasive, and 150 to 250 is considered dangerously abrasive. 
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the ADA (American Dental Association) each have separate RDA limit recommendations. The FDA suggests that 200 should be the maximum RDA for toothpastes, and the ADA boosts their limit to 250. 

Most toothpastes on the grocery store shelves have an RDA score of less than 150, but 150 is still far too high for the average person. Ideally, toothpastes will have an RDA rating of somewhere below 100. The closer to zero the score is, the less potentially harmful a toothpaste will be. 

Why Do Toothpastes Need to be Abrasive?

Abrasive agents help to remove things that have developed in or stuck to places where they shouldn’t be. Consider exfoliating your face. When you have a bunch of dead skin sitting on the surface of your face, you can’t really wash it. The useless dead skin acts as a barrier that makes your skin look unpleasant and prevents the rest of your skincare products (like moisturizer or acne washes) from doing their job.

When you scrub your face with an exfoliating wash, you’re using an abrasive agent to remove all the things that build up on the surface. With a nice clean slate, all the rest of your products will work. Your skin will be healthy and free.

Abrasives in a toothpaste accomplish the same goal. Food and bacteria build up, leading to tartar and plaque. Abrasive agents help to fully scrub them away, leaving behind a fully clean tooth that will respond better to toothpaste. When you’re fighting plaque and tartar, some level of abrasivity in your toothpaste might be good. For most people, high abrasives are entirely unnecessary.

What Ingredients Make Toothpaste Abrasive?

Have you ever seen a toothpaste that boasts the power of baking soda? Baking soda is a very mild abrasive agent. It begins with a slightly grainy texture, working up to a gentle cleansing foam. Baking soda will gently buff away light buildup on the surface of the teeth with a very low RDA rating. Baking soda doesn’t pose much of a risk to your mouth.

Charcoal toothpastes utilize a similar philosophy. The grainy texture of charcoal begins as mildly abrasive and then turns into a softer texture with water and scrubbing motions. The charcoal has just enough grit to loosen anything that may be beginning to grow on the teeth. 

There are other safe and gentle dental abrasive agents that boast lower RDA scores. Calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, phosphate salts, and derivative of silica are common abrasive ingredients in low RDA score toothpastes. 

The Consequences of Abrasive Toothpaste

It seems like abrasive toothpastes are great and wonderful and necessary. This is true to an extent. First, consider what a toothbrush does. Even a soft bristled toothbrush is slightly abrasive. All those bristles are designed to scrub and scour the teeth, and the mere act of brushing the teeth is slightly abrasive.

Now combine an abrasive agent with an abrasive brush. You’re really scrubbing your teeth. Both the toothpaste and the toothbrush are working together, and they’re doing more than just removing plaque or tartar.

Your toothbrush and your toothpaste don’t discriminate. They can’t tell the difference between plaque, surface stains, and your tooth enamel. Once all the surface buildup on the tooth is gone, the abrasive agents are still working. They’re breaking down the enamel on your teeth. 

Tooth enamel is a finite resource. When you’re out of enamel, it won’t come back. The teeth become thin, weak, and sensitive. They may begin to erode or crumble over time. Drinking hot or cold drinks might cause pain, and the weakened surface will cause those drinks to further stain and erode the teeth. 

Before you brush your teeth with a highly abrasive toothpaste, consider the fact that you may be doing permanent damage. Good dental hygiene habits may be enough to prevent significant plaque buildup without the risk of scrubbing away every last ounce of enamel you have. 

What Happens When My Enamel Is Gone?

Some toothpastes can work to help remineralize the teeth, fortifying what enamel remains. These toothpastes help to keep damage from getting worse, but they won’t repair the damage caused. Dentists may suggest remineralizing toothpaste or treatments for patients with significant enamel loss.

When enamel loss reaches the point of no return, most dentists will suggest dental bonding as a remedy. During a dental bonding procedure, weakened teeth are prepped and coated with a special tooth colored material. This material is then sealed around the tooth, preventing anything from ever coming into direct contact with the weakened tooth.

If erosion is significant enough, some teeth will be unsalvageable. These teeth may need to be pulled and replaced with bridges or tooth implants. These are major and expensive remedies for a problem that is usually completely avoidable. 

If you don’t want to spend a fortune and hours of your life with your dentist, the best thing you can do is take care of your enamel consistently. 

What is Non Abrasive Toothpaste?

All toothpaste is abrasive, including non-abrasive toothpaste. Without any abrasive agents, the toothpaste simply wouldn’t work. Non-abrasive toothpaste actually means low abrasive toothpaste, which would score at 70 or under on the RDA scale. Non-abrasive toothpastes are the ones that use abrasives like baking soda and charcoal, the gentlest options that do their jobs and wash away. 

Most dentists recommend toothpastes with very low RDA scores. If you aren’t sure your toothpaste is the right choice for you, consult with your dentist. He or she will recommend a toothpaste best suited to your needs. 

Your Toothpaste Isn’t the Panacea

Highly abrasive toothpastes essentially work through brute force. They’ll remove everything from your teeth, including the enamel you need to keep your teeth in one piece. Non abrasive toothpaste won’t do that, but it doesn’t need to. Your toothpaste is important, but it isn’t the be all, end all of your dental care routine.

Flossing regularly, brushing twice a day for two minutes a session with a soft bristled brush, and using mouthwash are equally as important. When you’re fully committed to a comprehensive dental routine, you won’t need highly abrasive agents to remove plaque buildup from your mouth. You simply won’t develop plaque. 

What If I Do Have Plaque?

If you have plaque that needs to be removed, you might feel tempted to use a highly abrasive toothpaste to remove that plaque from your teeth. Before you do that, talk to your dentist. Dentists have special tools they use to remove plaque from teeth while causing as little damage as possible. These tools are safe, effective, and provide instant results.

You might have seen kits of dental tools at the store that can be used for at-home plaque removal. It’s best to avoid these tools. They’re subpar versions of some of the tools dentists use, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can significantly damage your gums and your teeth. Plaque removal is best left to the professionals. 

When your plaque is removed, plaque prevention becomes your new job. Regularly flossing and sanitizing your mouth will prevent the growth of new plaque. Retool your routine to help you sustain long term dental health. 

Conclusion

Highly abrasive toothpastes aren’t the problem solvers they may appear to be. Most of them do more harm than good, and your teeth will thank you for avoiding them. Non abrasive toothpastes when used in conjunction with good dental health practices provide the optimum level of care for your teeth. Putting an adequate amount of effort into good dental hygiene now can help save you a lot of grief (and money) in the future. 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrasion_(dental)

https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(17)30822-X/fulltext

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5034904/


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