There are a number of things you should never brush your teeth with, according to experts. The list of teeth-brushing no-nos ranges from seemingly innocuous products, such as certain kinds of conventional toothpastes, to the downright weird, like a certain natural sugary substance. And it’s not just toothpastes and toothpaste substitutes you need to watch out for. Toothbrushes themselves can be just as nefarious. With so many dental products on the market, though, it can be hard to wade through what you should use versus what you shouldn’t.
“You need a Ph.D. to get through the dental aisle of confusion,” Richard H. Price, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, opined to The New York Times. He’s not wrong. Considering the global oral hygiene and care industry was valued at over $44 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach over $53 billion by 2025, according to Markets and Markets research company, it’s no wonder picking out a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste has become so overwhelming. But let’s brush up on our oral hygiene knowledge, shall we? Here are all the things you’ll want to avoid using to clean your teeth.
You should never brush your teeth with baking soda
Baking soda has nearly innumerable uses, especially in the home. “What’s fun about baking soda is that it does so much and is so cheap,” cleaning expert Becky Rapinchuk told HuffPost. “You can get a huge bag at Costco for a couple bucks.” It can be used to remove odors from your refrigerator, clean your sink, and remove carpet stains, according to Rapinchuk. But just because baking soda is an affordable and useful solution for cleaning your home, that doesn’t make it fit for cleaning your teeth. In fact, you should never brush your teeth with this product.
Emanuel Layliev, director of New York Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, explained to Self that using baking soda to brush your teeth will actually “help to remove plaque.” However, “it doesn’t kill any bacteria, and that can actually increase cavity formation in your teeth,” according to the expert. Baking soda can also damage teeth enamel, making it a poor replacement for traditional toothpaste.
Charcoal is one thing you should never use when you brush your teeth
Remember when charcoal blew up on the skincare market? And, of course, who could forget the “activated charcoal” trend that hit the food scene? The black carbon residue also made its way into toothpaste, with brands like Curaprox getting in on the hype with its “Black Is White” toothpaste and Native with its “detoxifying” charcoal with mint paste.
All the hullabaloo aside, is there actually a case to be made for using charcoal to brush your teeth? Experts say no. “The number of charcoal toothpastes and powders on the market is growing rapidly and are being marketed at through instafamous celebrity endorsements, but we believe shoppers may be being misled,” Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, revealed in a 2017 report for the foundation.
Dr. Uchenna Okoye, a cosmetic dentist, explained to the Daily Mail (via MSN), “Charcoal is really abrasive — it can scratch away the enamel on your teeth. The dentine underneath is softer and more yellow, so if it’s exposed, not only will your teeth be more sensitive, they will also be less white.” And lost enamel is forever; it will never “grow back,” according to the dentist.
When you brush your teeth, avoid toothpaste that contains this troubling ingredient
When you scan the back of a toothpaste box to check out the ingredients, it can be hard to even tell what you’re looking at. However, there is one word you’ll want to become particularly familiar with: triclosan.
Haixia Yang, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Department of Food Science, explained in an article for The Conversation that this anti-fungal and antimicrobial agent was present in some 2,000 household products, including body wash, hand soap, and — you guessed it — toothpaste. Yang and her team of experts conducted a study on the effects of triclosan and found that it “may have widespread health risks,” including potential colon cancer.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of triclosan in hand soap and scrubs, as the American Academy of Family Physicians reported. However, as of this writing, triclosan is still permitted to be used in toothpastes. Some large oral hygiene brands, like Colgate and Crest, have taken the initiative to reformulate their toothpastes without triclosan, but, unless or until it’s banned, continue to check those ingredient lists. It might just be in your best interest to never brush your teeth with triclosan-filled toothpaste.
You should never brush your teeth with coconut oil
Some trends you live to regret: low-rise jeans, crimped hair, and, yes, oil pulling. That is, the practice of swishing coconut oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes. In 2014, oil pulling picked up steam as people claimed it could do everything from whiten teeth to prevent diabetes. And, as you can probably guess, many of the claims surrounding oil pulling were unsubstantiated. Interestingly, though, this trend wasn’t “a new practice,” Lyla Blake-Gumbs, a physician with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, told U.S. News & World Report. It may be as many as 5,000 years old, according to the publication, as it’s an ancient Indian remedy.
Considering oil pulling is a 20-minute endeavor and brushing your teeth takes just two minutes, you can see why oil-pullers would eventually convert to coconut oil-based toothpastes. However, coconut oil — no matter how it’s used — is still not the bee’s knees of oral hygiene, so it’s best to never brush your teeth with it.
“[Coconut oil] has not been proven to be effective, and is not approved by the [American Dental Association] for oral health use,” Timothy Chase, a dentist in New York City, confirmed to Allure (via Insider).
Do not use soap when you brush your teeth
So, you’re away from home and forgot to pack your toothpaste — what should you do? In a pinch, Colgate recommends brushing with mouthwash, chewing some sugar-free gum, or gently brushing with a pinch of sea salt. Don’t have those things? Chances are soap is available to you. But, despite the desperate situation you find yourself in, put down the soap.
Gerald Judd, a retired chemistry professor at Purdue University, was an advocate of brushing his teeth with soap. Physician W. Gifford-Jones explained Judd’s thinking in an article on his site, writing, “Judd claimed that glycerine is present in all toothpastes and it is so sticky that it requires 27 washes to remove it. If teeth remain coated with glycerine and are not clean, enamel cannot be built up.” Judd predicted that soap, however, would simply get rid of the bacteria and plaque. Gifford-Jones gave the soap a go and, although he found it was quite effective on cleaning his incisors, it was wholly ineffective at clearing plaque on his canine teeth.
Not to mention, if you brush your teeth with soap that means you run the risk of swallowing soap, which can lead to throat swelling, abdominal pain, and other symptoms.
Using cinnamon-based toothpaste is a big no-no when it comes to how you brush your teeth
If you’re not a fan of the many spearmint or other mint-flavored toothpastes, it’s easy to see the appeal of cinnamon. The spicy toothpaste will still freshen your breath while tasting entirely different. However, if you brush your teeth with a cinnamon-based toothpaste every day, it could eventually lead to trouble. This is especially true if you make your cinnamon toothpaste at home as you may be using far too much cinnamon than is good for your oral health.
“I’ll occasionally see a patient with a condition called cinnamon-induced oral mucosal contact reaction,” William Graves, a dentist at Amarillo Oral & Maxillofacial in Amarillo, Texas, revealed to Self. Also referred to as contact stomatitis, the condition is far from pleasant. The symptoms of this “cinnamon-induced” condition are a burning sensation in the mouth along with white and red patches and other oral lesions. Well, at least there’s always bubblegum flavor, right?
Wondering about your cinnamon intake? Here’s what happens to your body when you eat too much cinnamon.
Don't brush your teeth with fluoride-free toothpaste
Fluoride is a controversial ingredient that many have sought to eliminate from their toothpaste. These days, there are a number of fluoride-free varieties available for purchase. However, it’s the American Dental Association’s stance that fluoride is both safe to use and useful in preventing tooth decay. In fact, toothpastes are required to contain fluoride to earn the association’s Seal of Acceptance.
“Fluoride is vital,” dentist Milad Shadrooh explained to Get The Gloss. “There are some that say that it’s a toxin, but considering that we expose ourselves to toxins all day long, not to mention the likes of alcohol and tobacco, fluoride really isn’t a risk to health (quite the opposite in terms of dental health).”
David Okano, a periodontist and assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Dentistry, told TheScopeRadio.com (via University of Utah Health), “The only benefit that you’ll gain is a fresher mouth with the natural [fluoride-free] toothpaste, but you will not receive any benefit against tooth decay if it doesn’t have fluoride within it.” So, it’s a good idea to never brush your teeth with fluoride-less toothpaste.
You should never brush your teeth with honey
Sugar is not easy on the teeth. As Healthline highlighted, science has demonstrated that “a select group of harmful bacteria produce acid in your mouth whenever they encounter and digest sugar.” In order to get rid of this bacteria, we have to brush our teeth. However, there are some natural toothpastes as well as DIY toothpastes that contain honey. The thinking is honey has antibacterial properties, which is true. However, you still shouldn’t brush your teeth with honey or honey-based products.
“Since honey is mostly made up of sugar, you shouldn’t consider it good for your teeth,” Watertower Dental Care wrote of how eating honey affects the teeth. “Bacteria love sugar, whether it’s from honey or somewhere else, and will use the energy they get from sugar to multiply on your teeth.” In fact, the dentistry said because of the sticky, sugary nature of honey, you should always brush your teeth after consuming it. Now, imagine if your toothpaste was made from honey? You’d just be spreading more sugar on your teeth.
So, while there are a lot of ways to use honey you never thought of, using it as toothpaste should never be one you try.
Don't brush your teeth with someone else's toothbrush
On Netflix’s hit reality dating show Love Is Blind (via Entertainment Tonight), fan favorite Lauren made one thing clear to her fiancé, Cameron: “Even though I love you, don’t use my toothbrush.” She continued, “Some people do that. Do you do that?” Although Cameron said he wouldn’t, he also seemed to think it was no big deal. “That is nasty!” Lauren exclaimed. Even if you aren’t outright grossed out by sharing a toothbrush, Lauren’s right. It is nasty. But just how nasty are we talkin’?
Maria Lopez Howell, a Texas-based dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, told Women’s Health, “Different people have different amounts of bacteria in their mouths, so why take the risk? Not sharing is caring in this instance.” If you use someone else’s toothbrush to brush your teeth, that person and you have a higher chance of getting an infection or even a disease. Be like Lauren; guard that toothbrush.
You should never brush your teeth with bleach
If you think you can dip a toothbrush in some bleach and safely brush your teeth, think again. Dentist Matthew Lloyd told Healthcare Learning that he’s seen many patients try to whiten their teeth at home with bleach. “They’re so focused on getting whiter teeth that they don’t consider the damage which can be done,” he explained.
Unlike what the pros use, household bleach “can damage the soft tissue in your gums, causing them to recede,” according to the dentist. “Once that damage is done, you can’t repair it,” he continued. “If you have a hole in your teeth or thin tooth enamel, then it might get inside your tooth and cause the nerve to die off.” When that happens, you’ll have to get a root canal. Not fun. Not fun at all.
Additionally, whitening — even when done professionally and safely, which is one of the easiest ways to whiten your teeth — is not the same as cleaning your teeth. In fact, Matthew Messina, a dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association, told The Washington Post that whitening works best in a “healthy mouth condition.” Teeth should be clean with all “plaque and tartar … removed” ahead of time, according to the expert.
Want a white smile? Avoid foods that stain your teeth like coffee, berries, and pasta sauce and instead snack on some of the foods that can whiten your teeth naturally.
Have a worn-out toothbrush? Buy a new one to brush your teeth with
If you can’t remember the last time you replaced your toothbrush, this is your reminder to do so. Like, now. Like, right now. According to the American Dental Association, toothbrushes should be swapped out for new ones every three to four months or sooner if they’re looking visibly worn.
Frayed bristles are “a sign that it’s not going to work as effectively at removing built-up plaque from your teeth and gums,” Maria Lopez Howell, a Texas-based dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, told Women’s Health. You should also replace your toothbrush after you’ve been sick.
Oh, and don’t forget to clean your toothbrush after you brush your teeth at night. “The point of having a toothbrush is to get bacteria out of your mouth, so you will inherently have some bacteria on it,” Howell explained. Rinsing your toothbrush will help get rid of at least some of that bacteria.
You should never brush your teeth with salt and pepper
Back in the day — and by “day” we mean back in the 300s AD — ancient Egyptians used a powder made of mint, iris flower, rock salt, and pepper to brush their teeth. This precursor to modern toothpaste worked quite well for the time.
Australian dentist Heinz Neuman actually tried the formula and revealed to The Telegraph that, although it wasn’t the worst-tasting toothpaste ever, “it was painful on [his] gums and made them bleed as well.” Neuman admitted that the bleeding wasn’t necessarily “a bad thing,” and the mixture would’ve actually been better than the soap formulas that people took to using later.
Today, though, there’s really no need to brush your teeth and gums raw with this antiquated concoction. Leave the salt and pepper in the kitchen and let regular old toothpaste do its thing, which is, you know, cleaning your teeth sans all that bleeding.
Don't use any sort of homemade toothpaste to brush your teeth
People have been using one form of toothpaste or another to brush their teeth for practically eons. Even though it’s no longer necessary to make toothpaste at home these days, not everyone is sold on buying it in stores. Due to the “not so natural” ingredients, such as surfactants, in some toothpastes, Delta Dental of Washington explained that some people continue to turn to “more homeopathic forms of toothpaste.”
There are many different ingredients — and not all of them bad — that people choose to put in their homemade blends. As such, one recipe may be more, or less, effective than another. Still, all DIY toothpastes share a common problem: They’re not FDA-approved, whereas “almost all the toothpastes you see in stores have been reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” according to the dental benefits company. Plus, if you have sensitive teeth or gum disease, your homemade toothpaste may not be as effective as a store-bought brand, considering they’re formulated with certain ingredients to specifically target these problems.
A hard-bristled toothbrush is not something you should use to brush your teeth
When wandering down the oral hygiene aisle, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with toothbrush options. Not only are there manual and electric toothbrushes, but there’s also the mystifying subcategory of bristles. According to Colgate, toothbrush bristles come in pretty much every form from extra soft to firm. Although hard- or firm-bristled toothbrushes are not as popular these days, they still exist. However, you should think twice before opting for one of these bad boys for when you brush your teeth.
“Sometimes people think that the harder the bristles are, the more they’ll clean,” Maricelle Abayon, a dentist at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health in Rochester, N.Y., explained to WebMD. “But that’s not something that’s necessarily true.” She continued, saying, “Soft bristles clean very effectively, more than the hard bristles.” Not only do soft-bristled brushes do a better job at removing plaque and bacteria, but they’re also gentler. She added, “The hard bristles actually can wear down your tooth structure.”
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