There are experts who claim that we shouldn’t brush our teeth with baking soda due to the wear that regular brushing with soda can cause on enamel and gum tissue. While risks exist (that we will explore together in this article), we think there is a deeper issue responsible for the ‘damage’ blamed on baking soda.
This deeper issue is that most of us brush our teeth unconsciously.
Let’s face it, if you brush your teeth like you are scrubbing a grout line in your bathroom, using baking soda is going to cause damage even faster.
Incidentally, one way to tell whether you brush unconsciously is to notice how you are holding your toothbrush the next time you brush. If you hold your brush with a closed fist, you are most likely scrubbing a grout line.
So, before we dive any further into the details of whether baking soda is safe to use as a regular tooth powder or not, let’s firmly state that ‘how’ we brush our teeth is definitely more important that ‘what’ we brush with.
We have written extensively on the importance of this ‘how vs what’ debate in previous articles that detail the pros and cons of brushing with electric or manual toothbrushes. While we’re here, it’s also very helpful to circle back and have a firm grasp on why we brush.
Ok, now that we are all on the same page with brushing consciously, let’s dive into whether baking soda is a healthy choice for brushing.
What are the risks of using baking soda?
Is baking soda too abrasive?
To answer this, let’s take a look at what is called Mohr’s Scale of Mineral Hardness. Mohr’s scale rates the relative hardness of all minerals. (1)
For example, diamond is a 10. Tooth enamel is a 5. Tooth dentin has a hardness rating of 2.5.
And baking soda??? Baking soda’s hardness rating is 2.5.
So, at first glance, it seems that baking used consciously isn’t too abrasive.
But let’s look a bit closer to make sure…
As you know, the enamel is the outer portion of each tooth. Under the enamel is the dentin, then the tooth pulp. However, if we have receding gums, it’s very possible that the surface at our gum line that we brush is not enamel, but dentin.
As you can see from this image, the enamel only extends down the sides of our teeth so far. Once the gum line has receded, this exposes the dentin.
This explains on a functional level why it’s more common for adults to get cavities along the gum line than on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. The receding gum line exposes the dentin, which is softer than the enamel that covers the crown of the tooth, and therefore is more prone to decay (and structural damage from abrasives).
But even with this, is makes sense within the discussion of abrasivity that used consciously, baking soda is ok to use in a tooth powder.
2. What about the aluminum in baking soda?
This is a common cultural myth. Baking soda does not contain aluminum. Despite the confusion caused by some product manufacturers labeling ‘aluminum free baking soda’ on their ingredient list, baking soda doesn’t have any aluminum in it.
The confusion comes from the fact that some baking powders do contains aluminum derivatives. So, in a case of mistaken identity, baking soda got thrown under the bus.
Baking soda does not contain aluminum. So this is a non-issue.
The Benefits of Baking Soda
1. Supports a healthier oral pH
The pH of our mouths plays a big role in determining what populations of bacteria flourish in our mouths. It’s generally recognized that the lower (more acidic) the pH in the mouth, the greater the risk of tooth decay. (Enamel demineralization occurs at pH 5.5 and lower)
You see, the bacteria that flourish at a pH of 5.5 find a pH of 6.5 or 7.0 downright inhospitable. Our job in managing our oral microbiome is to help maintain a mouth pH that encourages the probiotic bacterial populations that help us live healthy, vital lives.
Using baking soda can help in supporting a more alkaline oral pH. With a pH of 8.3, baking soda gently nudges the environment of our mouths to a healthier place.
For a deeper dive into the role that pH plays in our oral health, check out our article “Tracking your saliva pH“. This article contains a free download, the OraWellness saliva tracking log to help you along your path.
2. Baking soda lowers bad bug count
Plenty of research shows that baking soda really can help in lowering the populations of bad bugs in the mouth. Baking soda is an effective support tool to reduce periodontal pathogens. (2)
This makes sense if you stop and think about it. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, so it’s a salt. All salts are naturally antimicrobial.
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Given the above information, we believe that baking soda can offer support in helping us navigate to optimal oral health provided that we brush consciously. Baking soda definitely contributes plenty of ‘grit’ to help remove plaque, but we must be vigilant in staying present while brushing with baking soda to avoid causing more harm than good.
You see, most of the grit of baking soda (and toothpaste for that matter) is diluted with saliva and ‘used up’ within the first 20 seconds of brushing.
So, if out of habit you always start on the upper left side when brushing, the teeth and surrounding gum tissue in that area are going to get more than their share of abrasive and can weaken over time.
How to avoid overworking one spot in your mouth
We share a simple strategy in our free video tutorial course, the 5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth, to help mitigate the risk of this habitual ‘starting to brush in the same spot every time’.
Here’s the simple strategy…
Presuming you brush twice a day, start on one side of your mouth in the morning and the other side at night. An easy way to remember this is ‘at night, start on the right’. So, each morning start brushing on the left side of your mouth and each night, on the right.
In this way, we spread out the fresh toothpaste/tooth powder to various areas around the mouth. This will not only lower the risk of over brushing one area but also increase the benefit of using the product throughout the mouth. (As a side note, we even recommend this for those of you using our organic toothpaste alternative, the OraWellness HealThy Mouth Blend.)
How about you? Do you use baking soda in your toothpaste/tooth powder? If so, why? If not, why not? Sharing your thoughts in the comments really helps us all learn from one another. Together we can accomplish so much good.