November 27, 2012

Is Brushing with Baking Soda and Peroxide Bad For You?


I've decided to address the old 'baking soda + hydrogen peroxide' rumor in today's post because it is currently trending, again, on Pinterest. And if you read the hundreds of comments (which I may or may not have done), there's a rather large, and rather fiery debate going on that looks something like this:

Comment 1: I'm a dental hygienist. It's not safe to use baking soda and peroxide. There is a reason we have toothpaste. Use it.
Comment 2: All dentists are pigs and you are only saying that so that you can make money. Baking soda and peroxide are perfectly safe. See, this website [insert sketchy website] says so. In fact, it says I don't even need to brush my teeth! So there. [Insert a few bad words].

And the comments go back and forth, back and forth.

While I may agree that some (alot of) dentists are pigs (imagine working for them), for many reasons most dental hygienists are on your side.

We  swear by our old, home remedies for many reasons: less processing involved, less chemicals in the ingredients, usually cheaper, etc. And while I completely agree with going back to the basics (I use vinegar to clean everything in the house), it is my duty to address this issue because, well, in ten years I will have to deal with the ramifications of this trend. Frankly, if I can put the flame out now, I'd like to.

There are two reasons people use a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide in their mouth: to replace regular toothpaste and to whiten their teeth.

So, does it actually work?

Absolutely. Yes. It does. In fact, all dental products that claim to whiten your teeth must include some form of one, or both (check the ingredients). The baking soda acts as an abrasive to remove any stain that's built up from smoking and/or drinking dark drinks, and also helps to remove plaque. The hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent that will whiten the enamel.

But even if your grandmother swore by this, research has come a long way in the past 30, 15, 10, or even 2 years.

The problem with research is that it is a slow moving process. Long-term studies are constantly being done so that we can see long-term effects of certain drugs. This means that even though we know what the effects are of using hydrogen peroxide daily for ten years, we may not know what the effects are for 20 years, or 30, or 40...

Why is it okay to have baking soda and hydrogen peroxide in your toothpaste, but not okay to use it on your own? The key is control and safety. These companies have to go through years of testing to be able to call their product safe and effective. It is a very slow process... almost unbelievably slow. Usually, minimal amounts of these ingredients are included in a product for health and safety purposes. There are reasons tubes of toothpastes aren't filled with only baking soda. And there are reasons we don't recommend rinsing with peroxide every day. If you still don't trust me, please email me and I will try to answer your specific questions.

Sometimes its okay to have things in moderation. For example, take saturated fats. Its not good to eliminate all saturated fats-- you actually need a small amount for your body to function properly. But eating a high-fat diet will lead you down a path of destruction. In the same token, we know that full-strength baking soda and hydrogen peroxide are safe in small amounts. But too much will lead your teeth down that path of destruction.

In fact, with some patients there are times where I do not recommend daily use of gritty toothpastes (Crest and Arm & Hammer) because they are too harsh. Instead, I recommend the most basic, simplest form of toothpaste (like Aim). Most basic toothpastes are located on the lowest shelf and cost less than one dollar. Just make sure it has Fluoride in it.

Some people say that baking soda isn't hard enough to scratch the enamel. I don't know the answer to that, but my reply is even if that is true, it is certainly hard enough to brush away your soft gums. Others say hydrogen peroxide is good because it kills mouth germs. While that may be true, there are also healthy bacteria in your mouth that shouldn't be killed.

So, what DO we know?

We know that most people brush too hard. Add an abrasive in its full-strength form, like baking soda, and well, this single fact alone, is reason to stick with toothpaste.

We know that, unless you are a dentist or dental hygienist, you don't have any idea what is actually happening in your mouth. We go to school for years and years, learning how to do what is best for the patient. At least TRY to trust us. 

It comes down to two points:

1. Using baking soda instead of toothpaste will probably, most likely brush your enamel AND gums away... making you look something like this. Notice the spaces between the teeth and how long the teeth are.

Do you think this person smiles alot? Or feels confident in his/her appearance? Those bottom teeth are loose. The entire mouth is going to be very sensitive, and they probably have trouble chewing. This condition requires a cleaning every 12 weeks, plus a ton of restorative work and surgery to prevent further damage.

2. Hydrogen Peroxide is a known carcinogen with long-term use. Do I really need to say more about that? Again, the amounts in dental products are small, and they are closely regulated. Wouldn't you rather play it safe? This is a picture of just one type of possible oral cancer. Google 'oral cancer' for some other, more shocking, types...
So what should you do?

Like I tell all my patients, what you do with your body is completely up to you. Your body. Your life. I'm only trying to make it a little easier for you.

But wouldn't you rather play it safe? Or at least as safe as we know how to be?

PLEASE, stop using baking soda + hydrogen peroxide. If you don't stop, I guarantee that 20 years down the road you will regret it. Man up and use toothpaste.

If you still have questions, I'm here for you.

Your friendly dental hygienist, (m)

*As always, I try to present the most current, valid, un-biased facts on dentistry. I promise I will clearly note when I am giving my opinion, and not facts. The medical field is always changing, so when new research comes out, I will do my best to update you. If you are curious to know where I get my facts, please go here and here or feel free to contact me.

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