Which whitening toothpastes are the best?
The best whitening toothpastes for home use must be both safe for prolonged use and safe for the environment.
Here's a look at what's available, what's good... and what's probably best avoided. The very best whitening toothpastes for you is ultimately a personal choice. I hope this page can help you make it an informed choice.
Whitening toothpastes can be just simple toothpastes with mildly abrasive ingredients which gently clean the teeth from stains accumulated from foods and drink. There are also plenty of more "advanced formulas" which offer to actually whiten the enamel of your teeth. Some of these wonders are not really that safe and they may also include some ingredients which impact upon the wider environment.
The best whitening toothpastes for effective whitening may not be the best from the perspective of health and green living.
See also toothpaste ingredients for more ingredients, many of which also turn up in tooth-whitening products.
There are some relatively safe and harmless tooth whitening products out there, such as Tom's of Maine Natural Care Toothpaste which is quite health and environment friendly - but does contain SLS which some people will not like.
As noted on how to make toothpaste, there are several quite safe ingredients in many toothpastes which will gently remove stains from teeth. Stains build up from such drinks as coffee and tea. Ingredients such as calcium carbonate (chalk) and silica are hard enough to remove such stains but should not damage the enamel of your teeth, when used in moderation. The best whitening toothpasteswill tend to include such ingredients - so moderate use has to be the watchword.
Sodium bicarbonate is another commonly used abrasive which helps remove stains from your teeth. It's found in many tooth whitening products.
Titanium dioxide is also sometimes included for its bright white qualities. It's quite safe but whitens the toothpaste more than it whitens your teeth.
Less safe abrasives
Hydrated silica, found in some tooth gels may accumulate in the environment.
It's worth noting that most commercial teeth whitening products should not be used day in day out. Even natural products such as calcium carbonate may damage your precious enamel if used too much. Dentist use the "abrasive index" to decide which abrasives to use. Pumice, used by dental hygienists for that final polish, has quite a high abrasive index (150) and should therefore only be used occasionally. Calcium carbonate is nearly as high and again, will cause damage if used in too frequent a way.
Many tooth-whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide which has a bleaching effect upon teeth.
It may be safe in very small quantities but there is an increasing tendency for whitening toothpastes to include significant percentages of this highly active chemical. It is quite toxic if swallowed and can cause irritation if used for long periods or in the higher concentrations. The EU organisation Europa states that a 1.5% hydrogen peroxide solution will not cause problems for most people but recommends less than that for over-the-counter brands (0.1% or less)
Carbamide peroxide is usually derived from animal urea and hydrogen peroxide.
It is a health concern mainly because of the hydrogen peroxide. It's a concern for some people because it is an animal-derived product. It works when the chemical breaks down and oxygen enters the tooth enamel bleaching embedded discoloured substances (stains). The structure of the tooth should not (usually) change. Some people experience some sensitivity after using such products. The tooth enamel becomes lighter and whiter as the product is repeatedly used.
There is some concern that peroxide tooth-whitening may cause some damage to the tooth enamel.
According to Europa, the European Union site,
"...a few investigations have reported that bleaching can harm the surface of the teeth, making the enamel more porous and leading to dents, scratches, and loss of minerals.."
Your tooth enamel is the protective, hard layer covering the softer dentine inside the tooth; it is important to keep it in good condition. It is a body tissue which does not regenerate.
Calcium peroxide is found in a number of toothpastes and tooth-whitening products. It is generally considered to be a low risk chemical and it is often used as a food additive. However its use is restricted in Canadian cosmetics. It dissolves in acid to form hydrogen peroxide. When mixed with water it breaks down, releasing oxygen.
PEG-8 is a polymer of ethylene oxide. It is used as a humectant, i.e. it helps control humidity in the product. It is seen as a moderate hazard because of the risk of contamination by ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide is seen by the EWG as a high hazard ingredient.
1.4-dioxane may also be a contaminant and it has similar health warnings to ethylene oxide. Peg-8 goes by several different names and may not be safe for use by people with damaged skin.
Sodium hydroxide is sometimes included in small quantities in tooth-whitening pastes. It is also known as caustic soda and it is of doubtful benefit. It can cause brain and nervous system effects at very low doses and it is understood to be carcinogenic (may cause cancer). It has been allowed in food products at low concentration for many years.
Eugenol is a chemical substitute for phenols which has a host of names as listed on packet information. It is seen as very hazardous and it is included mainly as a fragrance and to denature some of the other ingredients (i.e. it changes their properties.) It is known as an immune system toxicant and it is banned in the EU.
This is by no means a complete list of the chemicals you may find in your drug store tooth-whitening product! If you want to check any particular product you cannot do better than go to the Skindeep website yourself.
Here are some of the better tooth-whitening products on the market, (from the perspective of health and green living, of course.)
Supersmile Whitening Floss contains calcium peroxide and baking soda.
Tom's of Maine whitening products (such as Anti-cavity Plus) contain hydrated silica but otherwise score well.
Crest's Whitestrips Whitening Formula Premium Plus contains some hydrogen peroxide and caustic soda but still scores well with Skindeep, presumably because concentrations are low and other undesirable chemicals are absent.
Apart from these and a few others, the main option is to do DIY tooth whitening with baking soda. Please see how to make toothpaste for more information.
Well, I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions about what to avoid after reading this - especially if you also check out Skindeep's excellent database. It seems clear that the best whitening toothpastes for brightening your smile might not be that great for your health or for our environment.
If you want to avoid animal-based products and harsh chemicals the choices are limited for effective whiteners. But you can be sure that yourteeth will stay strong and serviceable for longer if you use mainly natural and safe products for your oral care regime.
Perhaps the best whitening toothpastes are the ones which use just gentle stain removers such as silica and baking soda.
For a great book on natural dental care, check out Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition by Ramiel Nagal. It contains fascinating insights into how to prevent and even repair caries. There are also some recipes for effective homemade toothpastes.
Please note that any products recommended on this site are recommended in good faith and that the website owner derives financial benefit from affiliate links and advertising. You can learn more from the Disclosure page.
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