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Does Toothpaste Go Bad?

Just discovered an old tube of toothpaste during a declutter? Or maybe you’ve been economising by buying toothpaste in bulk and are down to the last pack? Whatever the reason, if you’re wondering if toothpaste expires, you’ve come to the right place.

The simple answer is yes, all toothpastes expire eventually.

But when, why and with what results depends on lots of things! So, to help you understand toothpaste a little better, we answer the following questions.

  • How long does toothpaste usually last before it expires?
  • Do non fluoride toothpastes expire?
  • Is expired toothpaste safe to use?
  • How should I store toothpaste?
  • What uses are there for expired toothpaste?

How long does toothpaste last before it expires?

Expiration dates are a good sign. They show the manufacturer has taken the trouble to investigate how long the ingredients in a product should remain safe and effective.

But toothpastes aren’t required to have expiration dates unless they contain fluoride. Fluoride is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which requires expiration dates to be displayed. Also, to gain American Dental Association (ADA) approval, a toothpaste must both contain fluoride and display an expiration date.

Why is this?

To do its job properly, fluoride in toothpaste must be able to attach to tooth enamel in order to fortify it and protect against cavities. But over time fluoride loses the ability to do this, which means it can’t do its job properly.

Most toothpastes containing fluoride have a two-year expiration date. This is because the ions in fluoride remain at their peak level of effectiveness for this time period. After this time fluoride can start to break down, putting your tooth enamel at risk from acid attack and decay.

The two year rule also generally applies to non-fluoride toothpastes which we discuss below.

Do non-fluoride toothpastes expire?

Non-fluoride toothpastes do not have to display expiration dates. But this does not mean they will not expire. It just means the makers haven’t tested how long the ingredients should remain effective for before they degrade!  

Toothpastes have to do a complex job. At the very least, they must clean your teeth. But many also promise to protect teeth, whiten them, protect your gums and prevent bad breath. To be able to do this, toothpastes contain an intricate mix of ingredients. Sooner or later, this mix will break down.

Some toothpastes contain ingredients that can extend the amount of time a product remains active and effective. These include antimicrobials. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Antimicrobials can also break down and lose their potency over time.

Only if your toothpaste contains preservatives such as parabens will a toothpaste mixture remain stable and effective. The addition of parabens may mean the toothpaste lasts years beyond its expiration date.

However, research in 2004 showed that parabens can enter your system and may cause hormonal changes that have been linked to cancer. For this reason you may want to avoid toothpastes containing them.

Purely natural toothpastes will not contain any kind of preservative. Expiration dates on these should be strictly observed and if none are displayed, they should be used within 2 years of their purchase date.

Regardless of their ingredients, all toothpastes will expire eventually. Even unopened and sealed toothpaste will expire.

So, if no expiration date is displayed, use a permanent marker to write the date of purchase on the tube. Two years after that date (or when any expiration date is reached) keep an eye on the contents. Check for signs of change in taste, colour or texture which show the mix is breaking down. If it is, you should definitely invest in a new tube!

Is expired toothpaste safe?

Using expired toothpaste is unlikely to harm you in the short term. But it’s also unlikely to benefit your oral health and may damage it in the long term!

Fluoride may crystalize and lose its ability to bind with tooth enamel. Your tooth enamel will then be at an increasing risk from acid attack and cavities.

The mix could separate meaning you get too much fluoride in one application, and not enough in another. Or you might find the flavor is no longer evenly distributed so one application might be too minty, the next one bland or nasty! This may then discourage you from brushing often enough.

If the foaming agent breaks down then the toothpaste will not be evenly distributed around the mouth. So even if it is still ‘working’ it won’t be doing so evenly.

Worst of all, mould and bacteria may have started to develop and these can cause problems for your oral health.

You are unlikely to need the emergency room after using out of date toothpaste for a few days. But over the long term, using a product that is not protecting your oral health can lead to bad breath, plaque and tartar build up and gum disease which, if it is unchecked, can cause more serious problems.

Your mouth is the gateway to your body. If your oral health suffers, it can have an impact on your overall health. Research into the link between periodontal disease and systemic health has shown that gum disease can (amongst other things) complicate diabetes and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So it simply doesn’t make sense to use expired toothpaste. It will either not help you, or possibly make oral health problems worse. And you certainly should not use it if the colour, sell or texture changes. This is a definite sign that the product has degraded.

How should I store toothpaste?

Setting expiration dates is not an exact science. How you store and handle your toothpaste will also affect how long it remains effective for, even before it reaches its expiration date.

You should:

  • Always replace the cap carefully after each use.
  • Consider storing toothpaste in a closed cabinet or toothpaste dispenser for extra protection.
  • Ensure that the environment your toothpaste is stored in is relatively cool

What uses are there for expired toothpaste?

The good news is there are plenty of things you can do with expired toothpaste (not gel) rather than just throwing it away. These include:

  • Removing crayon from walls
  • Cleaning your bathroom sink and faucet (the abrasives do the hard work here)
  • Cleaning your clothes iron (when cool!)
  • Rubbing into your hands to remove unpleasant smells
  • Removing scuffs from shoes (use a soft damp cloth with non bleaching toothpaste on to protect the leather)
  • Soothing spots and minor superficial burns

Summary

  1. Toothpastes containing fluoride are required to display expiration dates as fluoride is only likely to remain effective for two years.
  2. All toothpastes expire eventually, whether or not they have an expiration date.
  3. An expiration date is a good sign, it shows testing has taken place to work out how long the product is safe and effective for. So you should stick to it.
  4. If the product does not have an expiration date, it will still expire. Mark the tube with the purchase date and watch for changes in appearance, smell or texture.
  5. Always discard toothpaste that has begun to look, smell, taste or smell different. This is a sign the mix is breaking down.
  6. Toothpastes containing parabens, may last beyond their expiration date but the fluoride may still be ineffective after 2 years. Plus there are health concerns relating to the use of parabens.
  7. Using out of date toothpaste is unlikely to help oral health problems, and may contribute to them.

If you are really concerned about oral health, why take chances?  Go for a new tube of toothpaste as soon as your old one is out of date or you have had it for two years!

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