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Is Toothpaste Necessary? Contemplating Dry Brushing Your Teeth?

Updated: May 19, 2023

Put some toothpaste on your brush and get brushing! Rinse and repeat twice a day, 365 days a year. Is this routine habit really necessary?

Brush without toothpaste?
Brush without toothpaste?

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Is toothpaste necessary to clean your teeth?

Surprise, surprise but toothpaste is actually not necessary to clean your teeth even though it is a part of most people's routine daily oral hygiene regime. You can't be serious right because toothpaste, toothbrush, and mouthwash are like the trifecta of impeccable oral health.

Let me bring your attention to what happens during your dental cleaning appointment such as with one our dentists in long island city. The process is no different at any other dental office out there:

  1. The teeth cleaning is first done with the ultrasonic scaler, which vibrates at 30,000 rpm to remove the bulk of the plaque and tartar.

  2. Next the dentist will go back in and do a refinement by using hand scalers to scrape off any residual calculus or tartar.

  3. Finally, you will get your polishing with the soft rubber cup and polishing paste, which is similar to toothpaste.

The last step is the polishing with the toothpaste and by that time, your teeth is already clean and plaque free. The first step is the main step that removes the majority of the plaque. So are you wondering why the first step where the tartar removal is, does not use toothpaste?

It is precisely what you are thinking... toothpaste is not necessary to clean your teeth. In fact, it is the mechanical brushing or in the case of the dental office, the ultrasonic scaling that gets off all of the tartar. Let that sit for a moment, it is the mechanical movement that cleans the teeth. We call that action, debridement of the teeth.

What about dry brushing your teeth?

With that out of the way, yes dry brushing your teeth will absolutely work! Once again, it is the mechanical brushing motion that actually cleans the teeth and not the paste. If you just put paste on your teeth and leave it there without any brushing, your teeth will not get clean!

Now, whether or not you actually want to dry brush is a different story because we've tried it and it is not pleasant. If you're not using any sort of paste with it, the brushing will feel very rough like it is causing a lot of friction. It may even feel a bit uncomfortable to brush without any toothpaste.

Is it recommended to brush without toothpaste?

Our LIC dentist, Dr Linh Nguyen, would recommend that you do brush with toothpaste for the reason stated above. Brushing your teeth without toothpaste is just not comfortable.

The paste acts as a lubricant and helps your brush glide around the mouth more easily. It will reduce the natural friction between your brush's bristles and the enamel so that it is less painful. It is sort of like that extra touch that makes it perfect, like the whipped cream on top of your coffee.

If you need further convincing, have you tried cleaning your body without any soap? Why don't you try scrubbing your body with a brush and no soap! Not pleasant at all.

Other benefits to using toothpaste.

Aside from making your oral hygiene regime more pleasant, there are a lot of other beneficial features to using toothpaste.

  • It tastes very pleasant. Most have an added flavor to it such as mint that just gives you a very refreshing feeling afterwards. You can also find various other flavors such as cinnamon if you're into that. Some of the more natural toothpastes will have lavender and so forth.

  • Fights bad breath. That minty freshness feeling you get will help get rid of bad breath. Halitosis will not be on your dating profile list. Couple it together with a mouthwash and you're all good to go.

  • Can help whiten your teeth. Most of the products on the market are marketed towards helping you fight teeth staining. By reducing the staining, your teeth will appear whiter and brighter. Although it still won't be as effective as professionally done teeth whitening such as our KoR whitening.

  • Reduces tooth sensitivity. Most people have sensitive teeth and a lot of the pastes contain potassium nitrate, which helps to block the dentinal tubules which cause teeth sensitivity to cold or other temperatures.

  • Can balance the pH in your mouth. The critical pH level, which is when cavities start forming is 5.5 and using this will help to raise the pH so that it is more difficult for the bacteria to form cavities.

  • Can remineralize teeth. Toothpastes with fluoride or hydroxyapatite toothpastes can help remineralize teeth. Teeth actually go through cycles of demineralization and remineralization all day long. This can reverse small cavities.

Is toothpaste bad for you?

Based on all of those listed benefits from up above, it is great for you in general but it may be risky for some people.

If you have a child under 6 years of age. You may want to avoid a fluoridated toothpaste because excess fluoride can cause problems. Children are much more susceptible to flouride toxicity because they may swallow some by accident. Here are some effects according to one study.

  • Acute effects. Nausea, vomiting, hypocalcemia, hypotension, hyersalivation, respiratory acidosis, coma, and convulsions.

  • Chronic effects. Dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis, hypersensitivity to dyspepsia, gastric irritation, renal insufficiency, numbness, musclar spasm, birth defects, and cancer.

So yes, it could be bad for you but it depends on the ingredient that is in it. You could very well eliminate all of the effects from above by switching to a non-fluoride product such as hydroxyapatite toothpaste.

There are also some people who don't like certain additives within it as well such as sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), aspartame, and even plastic microbeads.

  • The SLS is for lathering to make it wet the surfaces better.

  • The aspartame is purely for taste.

  • The plastic microbeads helps with removing plaque and tartar.

Then again, you can find more natural versions that do not contain any of the bove!

What is in toothpaste?

Nowadays, you can virtually find any combination of ingredients that is to your liking but we will list a couple of common ones that may be found:

  • Flouride. Helps strengthen enamel and fights cavities.

  • Abrasives. Aids in removing plaque and tartar buildup via mechanical action. Although according to the ADA, if the paste is too abrasive, it may cause damage to the enamel.

  • Flavoring. Can find it in all sorts of flavor with mint being the most common.

  • Detergents. These chemicals like SLS helps with the foaming and lathering so that it wets your teeth to brush more easily.

  • Coloring. Helps with the visual aesthetics of the product. Although it has been trendy to use charcoal to make your teeth look black lately.

  • Humectants. This chemical helps the material to retain water so that you get the paste like consistency that we all like.

The history of toothpaste

The first appearance of this stuff was from 5000 BC, where the Egyptians used a form of tooth powder. They made it out of ox hooves, myrrh, eggshells, and pumice. The Greeks and Romans later improved upon it by adding oyster shells and crushed bones.

It wasn't until the 20th century that the modern toothpaste came into existence. The first concoction was composed of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. It still did not surpass the popularity of "tooth powder" until after World War I. Before then, the powder was all the rage.

Don't forget the importance of a professional dental cleaning

Even if you are on board with the dry brushing without any toothpaste, you still a dental check up with your dentist at least once a year if not biannually. This is because once plaque hardens into tartar, it does not matter if you use a horse hair toothbrush, you won't be able to get it off. The only way to remove the calculus is with a very sharp metal dental scaler. That means you can't skip your teeth cleanings!

But in the mean time for your regular oral hygiene routine:

  • Brush for 2 minutes twice a day.

  • Floss before you go to bed.

  • Adjunct with a mouth rinse like Listerine.

Last but not least, if you're not going to use any toothpaste, you may want to change your brush after being sick since the paste helps to keep the brush clean.


David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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