Once considered a luxury due to their relatively high price, teeth whitening toothpastes are now a standard part of oral care for lots of Americans. From the high-priced Rembrandt to Crest to Colgate-all major toothpaste brands now offer multiple versions of a whitening formulation. It’s a big business – and destined for continued growth – even if the whitening results are hard to prove.
But what is it that turns a regular toothpaste formula into a teeth whitening toothpaste? It’s two main ingredients actually-a whitening agent like carbamide peroxide or sodium tripolyphospate PLUS an abrasive agent like silica (or calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate). And while the whitening agent usually gets all the credit, it’s actually the tiny bits of silica that do most of the work.
Whitening agents, like carbamide peroxide, typically lighten teeth based on a combination of concentration strength and wear-time. But since the concentration of whitening agents in toothpastes is very low – and you only spend a few seconds or minutes each day brushing, the bleach isn’t in contact with your teeth long enough to cause a reaction.
Abrasiveness is what actually removes surface stains from teeth – and the silica-like substances in whitening toothpastes create the abrasive action. Now, in truth, all toothpastes remove surface stains – it’s just that teeth whitening toothpastes have more abrasive formulations and therefore act more quickly, so you SEE a result faster.
Potential Dangers with Whitening Toothpastes
But at what point does the abrasiveness of your whitening toothpaste become a danger? This is where things get interesting. All the while the little bits of silica are rubbing off your surface stains, they could be removing a little bit of tooth enamel as well. Some dentists are starting to worry that long-term use of heavily abrasive toothpastes will eventually weaken enamel to the point where plaque and bacteria begin to damage the teeth themselves.
Finding out How Abrasive a Whitening Toothpaste Is
The American Dental Association evaluates US commercial toothpaste formulas and assigns them an “abrasiveness rating” or “Relative Dentin Abrasivity” (RDA) number. The ADA will certify any toothpaste with an RDA of 250 or less, while the FDA seems to prefer a lower RDA of 200. If you don’t know the RDA of your whitening toothpaste, you can find out by using the consumer contact information on the package or container. The following chart ranks commercial toothpastes in order of their RDA value.
|TOOTHPASTE ABRASIVENESS RANKED BY RDA VALUE|
|Toothbrush with plain water||04|
|Plain baking soda||07|
|Weleda Salt Toothpaste||15|
|Elmex Sensitive Plus||30|
|Weleda Plant Tooth Gel||30|
|Arm & Hammer Dental Care||35|
|Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel||40|
|Arm & Hammer Advance Whitening/ Peroxide||42|
|Squiggle Enamel Saver||44|
|Weleda Calendula Toothpaste||45|
|Weleda Pink Toothpaste with Ratanhia||45|
|Arm & Hammer Dental Care Sensitive||48|
|Tom’s of Maine Sensitive||49|
|Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Regular||52|
|Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Bold Mint||54|
|Tom’s of Maine Childrens||57|
|Arm & Hammer Advance White Sensitive||70|
|Colgate 2-in-1 Fresh Mint||70|
|Under the Gum||82|
|Colgate Sensitive Max Strength||83|
|Tom’s of Maine||93|
|Oxyfresh with Fluoride||95|
|Arm & Hammer Sensation||103|
|Sensodyne Extra Whitening||104|
|Arm & Hammer Advance White||106|
|Crest Sensitivity Protection||107|
|Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel||117|
|Arm & Hammer Sensation Tartar Control||117|
|Close Up with Baking Soda||120|
|Crest Extra Whitening||130|
|Crest Multicare Whitening||144|
|Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening Formula||145|
|Colgate Tartar Control||165|
|Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Fresh Mints||178|
|Nature’s Gate Pastee||95|
|Colgate 2-in-1TartarControl/Whitening 82 Under the Gum or Icy Blast||94|
|FDA recommended upper limit||200|
|ADA recommended upper limit||250|
|Perioscript and Natural Dentist RDA levels were not available because the companies consider it to be proprietary information. Epic, Young Living, Jason, and Peelu RDA levels are not available because the companies do not test them.|
But, again, many dentists are not completely satisfied with the RDA method of categorizing whitening toothpastes for safety. Multi-year long-term studies have not been conducted in many instances (since the field of teeth whitening is a relative newcomer to scientific inquiry). And abuse of whitening products is not unheard of among those wishing for the whitest possible smile.
How can you make sure you’re taking care of your teeth as well as your good looks? Follow these basic principals and see your dentist at regular intervals.
1. ALTERNATE – Alternate whitening toothpastes and regular toothpastes. You don’t need a whitening toothpaste every day – so give your enamel a break with a gentler toothpaste a few days every month.
2. LOOK FOR THE ADA SEAL OF APPROVAL – You’ll know your toothpaste has been evaluated by qualified professionals.
3. USE A FLUORIDE FORMULA – Fluoride helps to build and strengthen tooth enamel, so it’s extra protection for those who whiten.
4. KEEP ABRASIVENESS AT BAY – If you have sensitive teeth, then look for low RDA values in your toothpaste.
Spend a little time researching the proper whitening toothpaste for you – and you can smile knowing you’ve done your best for your long-term health and well-being.
A list of all Teeth Whitening Toothpastes can be found in our reviews section.
Chart reprinted with permission of Ronald L. King, DDS Giang T. Pham, DDS 6100 Excelsior Boulevard, Suite East St. Louis Park, MN 55416