Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are Teeth Whiteners And Whitening Toothpastes Safe To Use?

I love the pearly whites that are seen behind the bright and perfect. They seem to enhance a smile that simply cannot go unnoticed similar to the way a person who has bad teeth does not go unnoticed. Smiles are an integral part of conveying emotion to those around us. So with the importance of a smile do you use teeth whiteners or whitening toothpastes?

Teeth Whiteners

I personally have used over the counter teeth whiteners such as Crest White Strips and I have found them to do the job quite well. My teeth will usually get 4 shades whiter from where I began.

They are relatively easy to apply, however you have to guard against the slobbers. My salivary glands always kick into overdrive when I put these goopy strips in my mouth. The best way I am able to curb this is to lay down on my back and relax. After a few minutes you get used to the weird sensation and you can set about watching the clock to pass the 30 minute mark.

It always seems to last an hour by my body's clock when waiting for something to get done....kind of like watching a pot of water come to a boil....forever waiting!

The taste is okay but not great....a tad on the sweet side. Although the effects can be quite dramatic, this little project is not my favorite thing to do each year. They are also spendy and in order to get it over with faster, I use the 7 day strips rather than the 14 day strips. As it is, 7 days is about as long as I can stand this ritual.

Whitening Toothpastes

Now between whitening rituals, I maintain my white, bright smile with toothpastes that claim to keep the teeth looking whiter and there are as many brands in toothpaste as there are in toilet paper. I typically choose Arm and Hammer Baking Soda PeroxiCare formula. This falls back on my childhood memory of my mom having me brush with baking soda periodically in a pinch when she would forget to buy more toothpaste for us kids.

Not only does it maintain the pearlies, it also gives them a just polished feel. They always feel so smooth and clean. The taste isn't bad either. Some toothpastes are so strong in smell and flavor they tend to burn my senses and overpower my taste buds. Arm and Hammer seems to be just right.

With all of this great whitening effect I also end up using Sensodyne toothpaste periodically because my teeth get very sensitive and this usually corrects the problem caused by the whitening gels.

Little did I know.........

The Downside Is.... According To Mr. Dentist

After performing this ritual for a few years and my husband recently joined me a couple of years ago in doing the same....a visit to the dentist proved to be eye opening.

My husbands appointment was before mine and the verdict wasn't good. In today's economic crunch and my hubby being a Boise Home Builder, well long story short, he has been home quite a bit. However, I have kept him busy helping me with Sterling Minerals Cosmetics shipments. Packaging and postal runs have helped to reduce boredom and stress. On occasion I have woken up also only to find my jaw clenched. Strange times makes for strange behavior!

The dentist discovered erosion on his teeth surfaces due to teeth grinding, something he has never done before, cracked teeth now requiring crowns and the big warning of using teeth whiteners. Essentially he is looking at about $6000.00 in dental work. Aye Caramba!

The Big Eye Opener

Not even realizing what we were doing to our teeth, the dentist spelled it out to my husband and he relayed it to me. I don't know if it was the condition of his teeth that the warning came or what, but this is the summation of the conversation:

Teeth Whiteners are for the most part, safe and is accomplished through bleaching as most of us know. The main bleaching ingredient is a form of peroxide within the gel. The downside which I touched on a bit is this does cause extreme sensitivity in most and especially as we get older as in our cases sensitivity is more prevalent. We have more erosion, cracked surfaces through exposing the tooth pulp that makes our teeth vulnerable to high levels of sensitivity. So needless to say, no more teeth whiteners for us.

Now came the really bad news for whitening toothpastes and one he elaborated on more so. All this time I thought I was doing a good thing for our teeth, only to learn this was causing subsequent erosion to teeth surfaces according to our dentist. Brushing our teeth is always a good thing but not when we use brushes other than soft bristle and then incorporate an abrasive toothpaste to boot. the guilt sets in since I am the one that chooses our toiletries for the home. Apparently toothpaste companies have created a tooth polish instead of a teeth whitener unlike what it says on the box, and they are very abrasive to teeth surfaces.

In part some of this is aging and in others it is accelerated due to stresses in our life and advancing conditions with over the counter products that really seem to cause more harm than good.

The use of hydrated silica is found in just about every whitening toothpaste and is combined with sodium hydroxide....what....caustic soda (lye) I am horrified.

Hydrated silica is what is used by dentists when they polish our teeth during a dental visit. It gives the teeth a beautifully smooth surface after removal of plaque but is way too abrasive for everyday use.

Sodium Hydroxide for bleaching...I am thinking "what is this doing in toothpaste?" This is what they use to saponify soap and clean out clogged drains. The caustic effect is like drinking soda or acidic fruit drinks causing enamel erosion, only at 1000 more times the speed. No wonder people get sensitive teeth. We are literally destroying teeth surfaces with these over the counter products with little to no knowledge of the harm they are causing us, much less what's in them.

And the bigger picture is.....are you ready?....they don't even whiten teeth all that well. They strictly perform more stain removal which is not whitening. Enamel must be bleached to achieve the whitening effect such as with lasers or high concentrations of peroxide solutions.

Needless to say, I now must investigate every whitening toothpaste and whitening strips on the drugstore shelf. I read every label, something I have never done for toothpaste. So now I am guilty of going by the bright box of glistening foil postulating "WHITENING FORMULA" with little regard to what is in it. I figured it works and it's just brush and then you spit it out. As far as the white strips, same thing, I only use these once per year. No harm, no foul!

I was dumbfounded when I flipped around the box and looked at the label, learning that Crest White Strips uses sodium hydroxide in their formulas also, so now I realize I am soaking my teeth in this toxic, caustic gel completely oblivious to the damage I was doing to my teeth.

A Reprieve From Total Guilt

The great news is Arm and Hammer, thank goodness, doesn't use sodium hydroxide and the use of silica is far more reduced. For the most part in the majority of their traditional toothpaste formulations they have stayed true to form and only use sodium bicarbonate for the polishing ingredient. I found the silica in their Peroxicare low on the list and other whitening formulas which I have used in the past. Sodium Bicarbonate, a gentle ingredient which dissolves as it gets wet, does the nice job of preventing tartar by keeping plaque to a minimum. It can also help to remove stains. Silica does not dissolve however, and it is basically tiny grains of sand doing the work, hence the destruction of enamel over the long term.

And Arm and Hammer uses a true bleaching agent, Sodium Carbonate Peroxide. This breaks down into sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide acts as a bleach, and as an anti-microbial agent. The high alkalinity of the sodium carbonate boosts the bleaching effect of hydrogen peroxide.

I contacted my dentist after my little discovery and sigh of relief, gleeful in the knowledge I had been using their products for years as my favorite choice. I guess the name recognition stemming from childhood is what kept me loyal to the brand.

I received the thumbs up from my dentist on this great over the counter toothpaste and was glad there was still a product on the market keeping it safer and simple. His recommendation was still to limit the use of it to 2 to 3 days per week if I wanted to continue with the whitening products since he also told me that using an abrasive teeth cleaner even with lower ratio of hydrated silica, can cause gums to recede. His advice, if I wanted to continue to use it, was to begin brushing on larger tooth surfaces staying clear of the gum line until most of the baking soda was dissolved. Plus buffers are added to their formulas to increase gentle polishing effect. Baking Soda also is much safer and not as abrasive when put into a toothpaste rather than straight from the box. Great in a pinch like when we were kids, but long term use straight out of the box can have similar effects of using silica, however it takes much longer to cause the same damage with sodium bicarbonate.

However, with the knowledge of silica still being in the whitening formulas I decided to switch to the Dental Care Advanced Cleaning version. Still had the baking soda I like but it does eliminate the whitening ingredient and the hydrated silica. But that's okay since tooth sensitivity needs to be reduced and baking soda will do a pretty good job on its own at polishing those pearly whites.

Arm and Hammer does offer a new product that is a whitening booster you simply add to your toothpaste. This eliminates the use of inconvenient strips, however be aware, even though the caustic lye ingredient is gone they do substitute it with Phosphoric Acid which is what we find in sodas and is also known to cause breakdown of enamel. As my Dentist made clear, any whitener should be used sparingly to prevent sensitivity and destruction of tooth enamel.

What's In A Name....False Advertising!

Now, I decided to look into other baking soda formulas on the market to check for similar safety as with Arm and Hammer toothpastes, thinking maybe the others have caught on and are offering something a bit more gentle. Crest, Aqua Fresh and Colgate to name several and guess what....they still have hydrated silica as the foremost ingredient before sodium bicarbonate. They also use different forms of peroxide for oxygenation in combination with the caustic sodium hydroxide for pronounced bleaching effect.

A perfect example of a label pronouncement that creates a false sense of security for the consumer thinking that is what they are buying. Most, just like me in this case, won't read the ingredient label beyond what the face label projects. They will take this labeling as fact and go with it. These products were not made gentler or safer they were recreated with a couple of key ingredients for marketing to compete with Arm and Hammer.

So after all of this investigation of toothpastes and their claims, I have yet again, learned an invaluable lesson. Never....and I mean never, take a product package at face value and read the ingredient list. Yes...even on something as mundane as toothpaste.

Be cautious and consumer savvy..... since the achievement of that perfect smile may actually be your teeths' undoing!

Take care and have a great weekend.

PS Latest video on Problems With Pressed Powders is up! View it at Sterling Minerals Media Zone.

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  1. I know your article is mostly about teeth whiteners, but thought I'd mention that I've been following the guidelines laid out in Dr. Gerald Judd's book "Good Teeth Birth to Death" for several years now, and I believe another key ingredient to avoid in toothpastes is GLYCERIN because it prevents tooth re-enamelization.

    "Toothpaste contains viscous, sticky glycerin, the main ingredient in toothpaste, which coats the teeth and prevents re-enamelization from nutrients in the diet. Glycerin takes over 20 rinses to be removed and leaves your teeth coated! Skeptical? Try this simple test. Start with a clean sink and smear some of your toothpaste on the sink. Rinse it off and watch how the water beads up because of the sticky glycerin. You will have to keep rinsing and rinsing to remove it! Your teeth are similar to a porcelain sink, and your teeth are being coated every time you use toothpaste. Coated teeth cannot re-enamelize from nutrients in the diet!"

    It's virtually impossible to find toothpastes without glycerin (even so-called natural brands), and believe it or not, Dr. Judd's recommendation is to brush teeth with a bar of soap! Not the best tasting, so I've been using "Perfect Prescription Liquid Tooth Soap" that is offered at the above link, however I buy it directly from (no affiliation!) when they happen to e-mail me a "Buy One, Get One Free" special.

    Anyway, just thought I'd pass that along since I've had tremendous improvement in teeth sensitivity, and no longer have bleeding gums, just by discontinuing conventional toothpastes that contain glycerin. A tooth brightener that is also sold (containing whole food calcium/magnesium and baking soda), is needed a couple of times a week if using Tooth Soap, since one's teeth are no longer coated in sticky glycerin, they are more apt to stain easier.

  2. Thanks Charmaine for the information. It definitely gives you pause and sometimes the information is difficult to disseminate.

    I did locate another toothpaste that could be used as an alternative to this problem and that is the CREST Cavity Protection Regular Toothpaste Series which does not contain glycerin, however the downside is it still has hydrated silica.

    It seems with all the known causes of destruction of enamel, some of what I listed here, but to further include drinking sodas, acidic drinks, over brushing, smoking, using too firm of a brush and age after many years of these abuses, I wonder after reading more literature from the American Dental Association, if loss of enamel is more about these things than whether or not a toothpaste has glycerin in it.

    What is conflicting about Dr. Judd's recommendation to avoid glycerin, I located an excerpt from his book on how he states he swipes his brush on a bar of soap and uses that for cleaning the teeth; re: text 2001, however, the thing is, glycerin is naturally occurring in saponified soaps and is a by product of soap when extracted through a distilling process. Otherwise, soaps contain up to 13% glycerin naturally and is in part why natural soaps leave our skin feeling very soft including the wonderful vegetable oils and butters which were saponified, so I am not sure if this is really something that prevents re-enamelization of enamel. And as far as Tooth Soap the oils are saponified so is there some magic to removing the glycerin in this product? Hmmm....I say use it for perhaps its uniqueness and quality of being quite organic out of concern of chemicals such as SLS, but as far as prevention of re-mineralization of teeth...questionable indeed. He also states taking supplements of calcium and phosphate in the diet will also help restore enamel but the teeth must be clean and soap does the perfect hang on a minute, supplements and foods are absorbed through the bloodstream which then supports bone and teeth through the blood supply, how does a clean tooth surface in any way relate to this when the benefits received by these dietary needs of building strong bones and teeth are by way of our metabolic structure?

    Still a bit of a skeptic on this one. When something doesn't click with me, then it doesn't make sense and I am leery about accepting this as the norm. Plus since his writings, I found zero information from the ADA on this subject yet they had everything else covered as to the destruction of enamel including safety of fluoride. His information is also not backed by any scientific evidence from what I could see.

    Amazingly the only information I could conclude in my research is everyone promoting glycerin and fluoride free toothpastes or powders made reference back to Dr. Judd and I personally want to see more information aside from his without bias or promotion of a product.

    Interesting and challenging to say the least, but for me, more research is necessary!

  3. Sorry, I should've clarified the difference with a product like Tooth Soap that has no *added* glycerin and regular toothpastes that do. I wish I had the time to formulate my own response, and especially since I'm no chemist, I thought I'd at least pass along what customer service explained is the difference:

    "Glycerine that is produced during saponifcation cannot be skimmed off the soap, as it is a part of the soap.

    We do not use any chemicals to remove the small amount of glycerine by product that stems from the soap making process.

    We have found that the small amount of glycerine alcohol coming from the process does not affect the cleansing ability of the soap in any way and certainly does not coat the teeth with residue.

    What needs to be avoided are products that contain over 55% added glycerine, that will coat teeth and prevent re-enamelization."

    Also, this article explains the nutrient/saliva factor in remineralization and isn't exclusively Dr. Judd-biased.

    Once again, I can only share the positive results from my own experience switching to Tooth Soap. I had moved from CA to OH seven years ago, and it took me 5 years to finally make a dental appt. Before I left CA, I had bleeding gums and pockets that required deep scaling, but in the meantime I discovered the info from Dr. Judd, implemented his advice, and therefore had a glowing report from my new dentist on the condition of my teeth and gums. He literally was puzzled as to HOW I could go without a visit for so long and have them look as good as they did.

  4. Charmaine your feedback is always welcome and I appreciate the opportunity to be challenged. It keeps me on top of things and my brain from rusting shut.

    I am glad your teeth corrected. Just to let you know though, I see a dentist every 4-5 yrs because I don't like them for one... scary.... and my dentist always comments on how great my teeth are after long stints in between visits and my enamel is super, yet I use these questionable products. My husband on the other hand has is it all toothpaste's fault or are we dealing with some genetics or poor diet or how each one of us metabolizes nutrients, or did your teeth correct for the simple fact you stopped using the harmful products allowing your teeth to heal, and it actually is unrelated to glycerin.

    This in lies my skepticism since I can't wrap my head around this glycerin theory since another dentist wrote about this and says it is based on bacteria being trapped below the glycerin coating allowing it to form decay...
    everything else I totally share your beliefs. Plus the ratios at 55% are doubtful based on it's position on the ingredient list. For that ratio it would need to be 1st on the list, yet it is after active and other ingredients, about position 5-6 on list and 2nd ingredient is water after hydrated silica in some pastes. The 1st and 2nd ingredient are going to make up the bulk of the products composition. So I personally would take what this company said about added glycerin ratios with a grain of salt...a bit overstated I think.

    We are definitely hurting our teeth with these chemicals found in toothpaste. Simpler is better just like reaching for a box of baking soda and Tooth soap is definitely simpler, better and without the chemicals, more healthy without a doubt.

    And I thank you for letting my readers and me know about this alternative product for those that not only want to stop using the abrasives but to also get away from the chemicals such as SLS which is also in toothpastes and give us that foaming action. I am not happy about discovery of this ingredient in my toothpaste either. So I will be looking at the alternatives at my local food coop.

    Take Care and Have a great weekend!

  5. Below is a copy of an email I received from another one of my readers and recent customers and wanted to share it with future readers in order so they too can get help with disseminating the overload of information that is out there. Thanks to Katie so much for this info.

    Hi Katherine,

    Thanks for this email and for sharing all your experiences and research. I am a recent customer and new to your list, but have found all your emails and videos very helpful already. I wanted to tell you that I’ve been down a similar path of discovery lately regarding dental products. My dentist (who is very open-minded regarding natural medicine) recommended xylitol to me, and then I found the below website while researching it on my own. It was some of the best info I could find out there pertaining to not only xylitol but to overall oral health, so I wanted to share it with you for whatever it’s worth. You’ll see that this dentist actually recommends against using baking soda!

    Hope it helps a bit…and doesn’t just make everything more confusing! Keep up the great work.

    Katie Reinhardt


    Here is another website recommended by one of my readers that wrote to me.

    Thanks to Di Kapnick

  7. I completely disagree about the hysteria concerning glycerin. The only source I could find about it was Dr. Judd's book, and his assertion that glycerin coats the teeth and prevents reenamelisation is ridiculous, as it IS sticky, but much less so than say, honey, and it is water-soluble. When I brush with straight glycerin for the recommended 1-2 minutes, using a soft brush, then rinse my mouth, both my toothbrush and teeth are *literally* squeaky clean. I can see no residue, and my teeth actually squeak when I drag my finger across them.

    Furthermore, the test he stated with the water beading around the toothpaste spread in the sink does not work with glycerin. I have tried it with a straight swipe of glycerin in the sink (washes right off), glycerin mixed with baking soda and salt (my natural dentrifice), which also washed right off. Since there are more than one humectant in a toothpaste, I'm sure they have something to do with the water beading/coating. Furthermore, it is the actual substance of any paste that makes it stick together and form a coating, not the glue. For example, OSB/fiberboard (used in furniture/construction) is solid and somewhat strong because of the wood chips and fibers glued together, but if I took that glue directly coated something with it, it would fall apart.

    Dr. Judd also neglects to mention that if you used the same toothbrush you used to brush your teeth and brushed the toothpaste off the sink, it would dissolve really easily, rather than coating it. I do agree that several of the other ingredients in many commercial toothpastes are harmful, but not glycerin.

    The theory about glycerin trapping bacteria to the teeth is also a bunch of hocum. Besides it not coating, glycerin has several natural anti-bacterial properties, as shown under a microscope that a drop of glycerin applied to the bacteria and micro-organisms that form plaque stops all motility. In other words, it literally stops them in their tracks.