The word ‘abrasive’ is a scary word to use in relation to toothpaste. After all, you wouldn’t rub your teeth with sandpaper! But for a toothpaste to do its job properly, it does have to use abrasive ingredients.
The problem is that if toothpaste is too abrasive it can damage tooth enamel leading to sensitivity and cavities. Plus the yellow dentin beneath may start to show, making teeth look discolored.
The trick is to find a toothpaste with low abrasivity. One that is strong enough to clean but gentle enough not to do damage. And one that also contains ingredients that repair and strengthen tooth enamel. Therefore striking a balance between cleaning and protecting.
But all toothpaste manufacturers claim to strike this balance. How can you be sure your toothpaste really does both clean and protect? This is where we can help. In this article we list some common abrasives then explain:
- Why toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients…
- Why toothpastes should be formulated to strengthen and replenish tooth enamel
- The Relative Dentin Abrasivity Scale – which ranks popular brands by their abrasivity.
- And we select and review four great low abrasive toothpastes.
- Aluminum Hydroxide a mild abrasive that also neutralizes acids in the mouth. This helps saliva to naturally replenish tooth enamel (a process called remineralization) and provide protection from cavities.
- Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) a completely natural mild abrasive and cleaner. Plus it neutralizes acid to help avoid cavities and remineralizes tooth enamel.
- Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Carbonate which work in a similar way to baking soda.
- Peelu Fibers from the branch of the Peelu tree have been used for centuries in India as a natural, mild abrasive.
- Hydrated silica is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has a long history of use in toothpastes. But if it’s in your toothpaste, make sure it is fairly low down the list of ingredients (meaning there’s less of it) or only use a pea sized amount. It can be a little harsh on enamel that is already damaged.
Why do Toothpastes contain Abrasive Ingredients?
During the day a soft, sticky film builds up on your teeth. This is plaque. It contains millions of bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Stains from products such as tea or coffee also develop.
To remove plaque and staining, some degree of abrasion is needed. That’s why we brush! Brushing is an abrasive action. We instinctively know that rubbing with cotton wool wouldn’t work. Neither would a completely non abrasive toothpaste (if it existed!).
The abrasive ingredients in toothpaste are tiny particles. Combined with the action of brushing, they buff away debris, plaque and surface stains. This is why your teeth feel smoother and look shinier and whiter after brushing
In summary, if your toothpaste is too abrasive or increases the acid pH in your mouth, it may cause:
- Thinning tooth enamel leading to sensitivity and exposed yellow dentin
- gum recession
- And it may prevent the minerals in your saliva from naturally replenishing tooth enamel (remineralization).
This last point brings us to a related question when considering toothpaste abrasivity – is your toothpaste formulated to encourage remineralization?
Why should toothpastes encourage remineralization?
As well as finding a mildly abrasive toothpaste, we advise finding one that is formulated to strengthen tooth enamel.
Tooth enamel is mostly made up of minerals. It’s tough, but it can be damaged by acid or abrasion. Thankfully, our saliva contains minerals that help to replenish tooth enamel. For saliva to do its job properly, the acid/alkaline balance in your mouth needs to be correctly balanced.
So check the ingredients list on your toothpaste packaging for the following:
|Abrasives that encourage |
|Other remineralizing ingredients|
|Aluminum Hydroxide. Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Carbonate Peelu Fibers Diatomaceous earth (contains trace minerals and silica)||Fluoride which can repair as well as strengthen enamel. Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that cannot be processed by bacteria and which helps to balance pH levels in the mouth|
Before we look at the Relative Dentin abrasivity table there are other factors to think about if you want to protect your tooth enamel:
- Avoid acidic foods and sugary foods and drink. Bacteria love sugar and produce lots of damaging acids as they process it. Alcohol dries out your mouth and prevents saliva from doing its job.
- Brushing too often, too hard, or the use of hard bristles/powerful electric toothbrushes can also damage tooth enamel. So if you’re a frequent or over enthusiastic brusher, it’s even more important to select a toothpaste with low abrasivity. You can do this by consulting the RDA scale.
What Is Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) Scale?
The Relative Dentin Abrasivity Scale lists a number of toothpastes by the level of their abrasivity, from low to high.
If you are looking for a low abrasive toothpaste the American Dental Association has set these guidelines to help you:
If the toothpaste you use is not on the list and the RDA is not stated on the packaging, use the manufacturer’s contact information to find out what it is.
Best Non-Abrasive Toothpastes
To help you find the best low abrasive toothpaste for your needs, we have selected four that meet different oral health needs. This will help you find a toothpaste that matches your individual needs.
Each one is reviewed below in more detail.
|Sensodyne ProNamel||34||Best for sensitive teeth|
|Arm and Hammer Advanced Whitening with peroxide||42||Best for whitening|
|Squigle Enamel Saver||44||Best xylitol toothpaste|
|Oxyfresh||45||Best for bad breath|
Sensodyne ProNamel Gentle Whitening Toothpaste
- Very low abrasivity (34)
- #1 dentist recommended product for strengthening & protecting tooth enamel
- Contains fluoride to promote remineralization
- Helps to restore natural whiteness
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate free
- A little more costly than regular toothpaste
As you would expect, toothpastes designed to deal with sensitivity are only mildly abrasive. And Sensodyne Pronamel is actually the lowest on the market. This despite the fact that hydrated silica is used as the abrasive.
It is formulated to make sure that the minerals in your saliva and the fluoride it contains are absorbed by tooth enamel in the most effective way.
It helps to restore natural whiteness by hardening and strengthening tooth enamel, rather than by polishing teeth to lift stains.
Though it is more pricey than regular toothpaste, multipacks will help to cut down on price.
Active Ingredients: Potassium Nitrate (to relieve pain), Sodium Fluoride (to encourage remineralization).
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Sorbitol, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, PEG-8, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Flavor, Titanium Dioxide, Xantham Gum, Sodium Saccharin, Sodium Hydroxide.
You can read our review of the Sensodyne brand here.
Arm and Hammer Advanced Whitening
- Low Abrasivity (42)
- Uses fluoride and baking soda to encourage remineralization and promote deep cleaning
- Uses mild peroxide formula to whiten teeth
- Prevents new stains from forming with Stain Defense technology
- Baking soda taste can be a bit salty for some
- Contains sodium lauryl sulphate (which can be an irritant)
Arm and Hammer Advanced Whitening is a baking soda based toothpaste.
Baking soda has been used for centuries as powerful, yet mild, abrasive cleaner. It also helps to maintain the pH balance of the mouth. Combined with fluoride, Arm and Hammer Advanced Whitening helps to restore natural whiteness by strengthening enamel.
The addition of peroxide helps to brighten teeth further and causes foaming which makes the cleaning power of baking soda even more effective.
It’s disappointing to see the addition of sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) to the mix. This can cause irritation in some individuals. If you are not sensitive to SLS, however, Arm and Hammer Advanced is a great low abrasive, product that will whiten and protect tooth enamel.
Active ingredient Sodium Fluoride (to promote remineralization)
Inactive ingredients Baking Soda (abrasive and promotes remineralization), PEG-8, Tetrasodium pyrophosphate, PEG/PPG copolymer, sodium carbonate peroxide, sodium saccharin, flavor, water, sodium lauryl sulphate
Squigle Enamel Saver
- Low abrasivity (44)
- Highest Xylitol content of any brand so very effective for protecting tooth enamel
- Also contains fluoride to repair and strengthen tooth enamel
- Sodium lauryl sulfate free
- Relieves canker sores, dry mouth and ulcers
- No artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners
- Patented foaming system is mild enough to be used in artificial tears
- Ingredients are not listed on the product (but we have included them below)
Squigle Enamel Saver is a very mildly abrasive product. It also has the greatest xylitol content of any brand on the market. Combined with sodium fluoride it will both clean and protect tooth enamel, even repairing damage already done.
It is very positively reviewed on Amazon. Especially for its ability to relieve sore or dry mouth conditions.
You can read about the benefits of xylitol toothpastes in more detail in our xylitol toothpaste review. It explains simply what xylitol is and how it works.
If you want a fantastic, low abrasive xylitol toothpaste, then Squigle is a product well worth considering. It is expensive but has more xylitol for your dollar than any other brand so is worth the investment.
Active ingredients: 0.24% sodium fluoride
Inactive ingredients: 36% xylitol, water, silica, glycerin, poloxamer, cellulose gum, flavor, anatase, Methocel, glycyrrhizin, sodium hydroxide
Oxyfresh Maximum Fresh Breath Lemon Mint Toothpaste
- Low abrasivity (45)
- Uses a patented formula (Oxygene) and zinc to neutralize bad breath odors.
- Clinically proven to be better than leading brands at reducing plaque and improving oral health.
- Intriguing lemon flavor
- Free from sodium lauryl sulphate and fluoride
- Lasts up to 4x longer than regular toothpaste
- Contains xylitol
- Contains carrageenan which can cause irritation in some individuals
Oxyfresh Fresh Breath is gentle on teeth with a low abrasivity which means your tooth enamel is well protected.
It contains xylitol that helps balance the pH value in your mouth and promote remineralization.
To tackle bad breath it uses a patented formula called Oxygene. This prevents bacterial build up, detoxifies the mouth and completely neutralizes (rather than just masking) bad odors. You can read our reviews of best toothpastes for bad breath here.
It is clinically proven to reduce oral bacteria by 85% and be far more effective at reducing plaque build up and gum disease than other leading brands.
Oxyfresh Fresh Breath is more expensive than regular toothpastes, but it is highly concentrated and lasts up to four times longer than other products so it is not as costly as it first appears.
Sorbitol, Water, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Natural Flavor (Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil, Mentha Viridis (Spearmint) Oil), Xylitol, Stabilized Chlorine Dioxide (Oxygene®), Zinc Acetate, Sucralose, Chondrus Crispus (Carrageenan)
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