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All About Whitening Toothpastes

Apr 21, 2012
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Last Updated 4/21/2012 - Once considered a luxury due to their relatively high price, teeth whitening toothpastes are now a standard part of oral care for lots of Americans. From the high-priced Rembrandt to Crest to Colgate-all major toothpaste brands now offer multiple versions of a whitening formulation. It's a big business - and destined for continued growth - even if the whitening results are hard to prove.


But what is it that turns a regular toothpaste formula into a teeth whitening toothpaste? It's two main ingredients actually-a whitening agent like carbamide peroxide or sodium tripolyphospate PLUS an abrasive agent like silica (or calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate). And while the whitening agent usually gets all the credit, it's actually the tiny bits of silica that do most of the work.


Whitening agents, like carbamide peroxide, typically lighten teeth based on a combination of concentration strength and wear-time. But since the concentration of whitening agents in toothpastes is very low - and you only spend a few seconds or minutes each day brushing, the bleach isn't in contact with your teeth long enough to cause a reaction.


Abrasiveness is what actually removes surface stains from teeth - and the silica-like substances in whitening toothpastes create the abrasive action. Now, in truth, all toothpastes remove surface stains - it's just that teeth whitening toothpastes have more abrasive formulations and therefore act more quickly, so you SEE a result faster.


Potential Dangers with Whitening Toothpastes


But at what point does the abrasiveness of your whitening toothpaste become a danger? This is where things get interesting. All the while the little bits of silica are rubbing off your surface stains, they could be removing a little bit of tooth enamel as well. Some dentists are starting to worry that long-term use of heavily abrasive toothpastes will eventually weaken enamel to the point where plaque and bacteria begin to damage the teeth themselves.

Finding out How Abrasive a Whitening Toothpaste Is


The American Dental Association evaluates US commercial toothpaste formulas and assigns them an “abrasiveness rating” or “Relative Dentin Abrasivity” (RDA) number. The ADA will certify any toothpaste with an RDA of 250 or less, while the FDA seems to prefer a lower RDA of 200. If you don't know the RDA of your whitening toothpaste, you can find out by using the consumer contact information on the package or container. The following chart ranks commercial toothpastes in order of their RDA value.

TOOTHPASTE ABRASIVENESS RANKED BY RDA VALUE
Toothpaste Name
RDA
Toothbrush with plain water
04
Plain baking soda
07
Weleda Salt Toothpaste
15
Elmex Sensitive Plus
30
Weleda Plant Tooth Gel
30
Arm & Hammer Dental Care
35
Weleda Children's Tooth Gel
40
Arm & Hammer Advance Whitening/ Peroxide
42
Squiggle Enamel Saver
44
Weleda Calendula Toothpaste
45
Weleda Pink Toothpaste with Ratanhia
45
Oxyfresh
45
Arm & Hammer Dental Care Sensitive
48
Tom's of Maine Sensitive
49
Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Regular
52
Rembrandt Original
53
Closys
53
Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Bold Mint
54
Tom's of Maine Childrens
57
Supersmile
62
Rembrandt Mint
63
Colgate Regular
68
Colgate Total
70
Arm & Hammer Advance White Sensitive
70
Colgate 2-in-1 Fresh Mint
70
Biotene
78
Sensodyne
79
AIM
80
Close Up
80
Under the Gum
82
Colgate Sensitive Max Strength
83
Nature's Gate
87
Aquafresh Sensitive
91
Tom's of Maine
93
Rembrandt Plus
94
Oxyfresh with Fluoride
95
Crest Regular
95
Oxyfresh Powder
97
Natural White
101
Mentadent
103
Arm & Hammer Sensation
103
Sensodyne Extra Whitening
104
Colgate Platinum
106
Arm & Hammer Advance White
106
Crest Sensitivity Protection
107
Colgate Herbal
110
Amway Glister
110
Aquafresh Whitening
113
Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel
117
Arm & Hammer Sensation Tartar Control
117
Close Up with Baking Soda
120
Colgate Whitening
124
Crest Extra Whitening
130
Ultra Brite
133
Crest Multicare Whitening
144
Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening Formula
145
Pepsodent
150
Colgate Tartar Control
165
Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Fresh Mints
178
Nature's Gate Pastee
95
Colgate 2-in-1TartarControl/Whitening 82 Under the Gum or Icy Blast
94
FDA recommended upper limit
200
ADA recommended upper limit
250
Perioscript and Natural Dentist RDA levels were not available because the companies consider it to be proprietary information. Epic, Young Living, Jason, and Peelu RDA levels are not available because the companies do not test them.

But, again, many dentists are not completely satisfied with the RDA method of categorizing whitening toothpastes for safety. Multi-year long-term studies have not been conducted in many instances (since the field of teeth whitening is a relative newcomer to scientific inquiry). And abuse of whitening products is not unheard of among those wishing for the whitest possible smile.


How can you make sure you’re taking care of your teeth as well as your good looks? Follow these basic principals and see your dentist at regular intervals.


1. ALTERNATE - Alternate whitening toothpastes and regular toothpastes. You don’t need a whitening toothpaste every day - so give your enamel a break with a gentler toothpaste a few days every month.


2. LOOK FOR THE ADA SEAL OF APPROVAL - You’ll know your toothpaste has been evaluated by qualified professionals.


3. USE A FLUORIDE FORMULA - Fluoride helps to build and strengthen tooth enamel, so it’s extra protection for those who whiten.


4. KEEP ABRASIVENESS AT BAY - If you have sensitive teeth, then look for low RDA values in your toothpaste.


Spend a little time researching the proper whitening toothpaste for you - and you can smile knowing you’ve done your best for your long-term health and well-being.


A list of all Teeth Whitening Toothpastes can be found in our reviews section.



Reviewed by Dr. Alan Zweig

Dr. Alan Zweig runs a private dental practice in Beverly Hills, CA. With over 30 years of experience in cosmetic dentistry, Dr. Alan Zweig is a teeth whitening veteran. He's been trusted by major celebrities, business leaders, and patients from over six different continents.


Chart reprinted with permission of Ronald L. King, DDS Giang T. Pham, DDS 6100 Excelsior Boulevard, Suite East St. Louis Park, MN 55416


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