I’ve receive several questions from patients about the use of baking soda
(sodium bicarbonate) as an alternative to commercial toothpaste, and especially regarding its claimed ability to whiten teeth.
Searching the Internet regarding brushing your teeth or whitening your teeth with baking soda, you’ll routinely see the claim that baking soda is VERY abrasive to use on your teeth – so if you use it, don’t use it every day. Baking soda is NOT abrasive.
Baking soda (the stuff in the box in the super market) is, by far, the lowest abrasiveness of anything you would ever brush your teeth with.
Here’s the problem – non-scientists writing articles based on assumption, and not proven fact. And once ONE person writes something, others quote him or her. Then when you have several people saying that same [false] thing, people state it and believe it as fact.
Why do so many people “assume” baking soda is extremely abrasive? It’s because the particles are large and have sharp edges, so it “feels” gritty when you touch it.
Below on the left you see a microscopic photo of baking soda particles. Notice how they have edges and corners. Below on the right you see silica particles, which would be the most common abrasive in toothpastes. Notice how rounded and smooth the silica particles are. But also realize that the baking soda particles are much, much larger than the silica particles.
Baking soda particles can be as much as 15 times larger than silica particles in toothpaste.
So what’s the difference? Silica particles are much, much harder than baking soda particles.
When you forcefully rub two hard objects against each other, the harder object will have almost zero damage, and the softer object will be greatly scratched and damaged. For example, a diamond is a hardness of 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, and glass is rated at 5. So diamond is much harder than glass. When diamond is firmly rubbed against glass, it will scratch the glass, but the diamond will not be damaged.
Mohs Hardness of materials (remember this is an ordinal scale, so there is no mathematical formula of consistent distance between each number):
- Tooth enamel = 5
- Tooth dentin/root = 3
- Baking soda = 2.5
- Hydrated silica in toothpaste = 5-7
Baking soda “feels” much more gritty than regular toothpaste (which usually has hydrated silica as the abrasive) because the particles are larger, and the edges are rough. Whereas silica particles are more round, smooth, and many times smaller. So baking soda “feels” more abrasive – but it’s not.
The fact is that Baking Soda, being much softer than tooth enamel, and very slightly softer than even tooth dentin, will not create much damage (abrasion) to the tooth.
The American Dental Association has published their RDA (Relative Dentin Abrasivity) to measure the abrasiveness of various toothpastes. The RDA abrasiveness categories are:
- Low 4-70 (plain water is 4. Baking soda is 7.)
- Medium 70-100
- High 100-150
- Harmful 150-250
The FDA limits abrasiveness to a maximum of RDA 200.
The RDA of Arm & Hammer baking soda is only 7. Whereas the most typical tooth paste will be in the 70-100 range with many far above that. THAT is how gentle baking soda is, as far as abrasion to your teeth.
Of course, keep in mind that commercial toothpastes that claim to be baking soda toothpastes also contain other abrasives. So using baking soda in the commercial toothpaste may be thought of as somewhat of a marketing gimmick to get you to buy the toothpaste.
This means you can brush your teeth with more paste and for a longer time if you’re using straight baking soda mixed to a paste with only water. That alone will help physically remove more bacteria and more stain. Why? Stain will typically be softer than baking soda, so, though
baking soda will not cause much abrasion of your teeth, it’s still hard enough to scrape off many types of stain from your teeth.
The main problem with using straight baking soda/water paste? No fluoride.
Baking Soda To Whiten Your Teeth
There has never been any scientific study that even hints that baking soda may whiten your teeth.
Of course, if you’re talking about using baking soda to simply brush with to remove stain from the surface of your teeth, then yes, baking soda will do that, just like any other toothpaste in the world. But does it have any other chemical or other means of any kind that will “whiten” your teeth? Absolutely, positively not!
The Really Dangerous Information
Often you’ll find instructions to add lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or some other acidic ingredient along with the baking soda. It’s the acid that attacks the enamel! This a perfect way to “wear away your tooth enamel.
Yes, this maybe a “natural” way of whitening you teeth, however, a snake bite is natural too but isn’t healthy!
|RDA Values||Toothpaste Brand and Variety||Source|
|0||non-alcoholic mouthrinse (Biotene PBF(*Green Label), Act II Anticavity, Crest Pro-Health Complete, Oasis, Listerine Zero, Peridex, Peroxyl and water)||Church & Dwight|
|7||straight baking soda (The Arm & Hammer Yellow Box)|
|8||Arm & Hammer Tooth Powder||Church & Dwight|
|23||Biotene PBF Drymouth Toothpaste|
|30||KID’S TOOTH GEL STRAWBERRY-RASPBERRY (ph value: 7.0-7.5)||Lavera|
|30||Elmex Sensitive Plus||Elmex|
|42||Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Tartar Control||Church & Dwight|
|42||Arm & Hammer Advance White Baking Soda Peroxide||Church & Dwight|
|42||Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Regular||Church & Dwight|
|44-53||Squigle Enamel Saver|
|49||Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Tartar Control||Church & Dwight|
|49||Tom’s of Maine Sensitive (given as 40’s)||Tom’s|
|53||Rembrandt Original (RDA)||Rembrandt|
|57||Tom’s of Maine Children’s, Wintermint (given as mid-50’s)||Tom’s|
|60||Boiron Homeodent Natural Toothpaste-Lemon Flavor|
|62||Clinpro 5000 Fluoride Toothpaste|
|63||Rembrandt Mint (‘Heffernan RDA’)||Rembrandt|
|68||Colgate Regular||Colgate- Palmolive|
|70||Colgate Total||Colgate- Palmolive|
|70||Arm & Hammer Advance White Sensitive||Church & Dwight|
|70||Colgate 2-in-1 Fresh Mint (given as 50-70)||Colgate- Palmolive|
|70-76||Squigle Tooth Builder|
|83||Colgate Sensitive Maximum Strength||Colgate- Palmolive|
|91||Aquafresh Sensitive||Colgate- Palmolive|
|93||Tom’s of Maine Regular (given as high 80’s low 90’s)||Squigle (Tom’s)|
|94||Plus White||Indiana Study|
|95||Crest Regular (possibly 99)||P&G (P&G)|
|101||Natural White||Indiana Study|
|104||Sensodyne Extra Whitening||Colgate- Palmolive|
|104||Sensodyne Repair and Protect with Novamin (Purchased on Amazon.com)||GSK Pharmaceuticals|
|106||Colgate Platinum||Indiana Study|
|106||Arm & Hammer Advance White Paste||Church & Dwight|
|107||Crest Sensitivity Protection||Colgate- Palmolive|
|110||Colgate Herbal||Colgate- Palmolive|
|110||Amway Glister (given as upper boundary)||Patent US06174515|
|112||Prevident 5000 Booster|
|113||Aquafresh Whitening||Indiana Study|
|117||Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel||Church & Dwight|
|120||Close-Up with Baking Soda (canadian)||Unilever|
|124||Colgate Whitening||Indiana Study|
|130||Crest Extra Whitening with Scope||Indiana Study|
|130||Crest Pro-Health with Scope (Crest for Me)||Burt’s Bees, Inc.|
|133||Ultra brite (or 120-140)||Colgate- Palmolive|
|144||Crest MultiCare Whitening||P&G|
|145||Ultra brite Advanced Whitening Formula||P&G|
|150||Pepsodent (given as upper bound)||Unilever|
|165||Colgate Tartar Control (given as 155-165)||Colgate- Palmolive|
|200||Colgate 2-in-1 Tartar Control/Whitening or Icy Blast/Whitening (given as 190-200)||Colgate- Palmolive|
To measure RDA in the lab, the tester starts with extracted human or cow teeth. The teeth are irradiated in a neutron flux, mounted in methyl methacrylate (bone glue), stripped of enamel, inserted into a brushing-machine, brushed by ADA standards (reference toothbrush, 150g pressure, 1500 strokes, 4-to-1 water-toothpaste slurry). The radioactivity of the rinse water is then measured and recorded. For experimental control, the test is repeated with an ADA reference toothpaste made of calcium pyrophosphate, with this measurement given a value of 100 to calibrate the relative scale.
Consumer Reports reviewed toothpastes (August 1998). Unfortunately, they did not consider RDA, only stain removal. So, high-abrasivity toothpastes like Ultra brite got the best ratings. I think you should be skeptical of their rankings. Which toothpaste is the best? Almost every dentist I know swears by Colgate Total, because it has a long-lasting antimicrobial ingredient. But in reality maybe no toothpaste is best for some people, depending on the relationship of enamel to root to sulcus (i.e. root coverage).