Is Your Toothpaste Too Abrasive?

Is Your Toothpaste Too Abrasive?

Most people don’t give much thought to which toothpaste to use, assuming there’s little difference between them, but did you know that some are so abrasive they could possibly do as much harm to your teeth as they do good?

Practically all toothpastes contain abrasive chemical compounds (such as aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, phosphate salts or silicates), which serve to remove plaque, stains and debris from teeth by scrubbing the surface with particles that do not dissolve in water. The level of abrasiveness of a toothpaste generally depends on the hardness, the particle size and the amount of the compound.

Abrasiveness is useful to a certain point, but over time, the friction can wear down tooth enamel, which does not regrow itself. When enamel erodes, the tooth loses its outer layer of protection, often resulting in pain and cavities. Even worse, some studies have shown that increased abrasiveness doesn’t even necessarily mean increased stain removal. In fact, high abrasiveness may actually decrease a toothpaste’s cleaning power. Thus, many dentists recommend a medium to low-abrasion toothpaste — especially if you have sensitive teeth, use an electronic toothbrush or tend to brush with a lot of force — but how can you tell which ones are more gentle than others?

Lucky for us, there’s a handy standard used for measuring and comparing the abrasiveness of toothpastes called the RDA (radioactive dentin abrasion or relative dentin abrasivity) value. Knowing the RDA value of a toothpaste can help you determine if it’s considered abrasive or not, as detailed in the following scale:

0 – 70 = low abrasive
70 – 100 = medium abrasive
100 – 150 = highly abrasive
150 – 250 = harmful limit

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against going higher than an RDA of 200, while the American Dental Association (ADA) has a recommended maximum of 250.

Here’s a rundown of some popular toothpastes and their respective RDA values, from least abrasive to most abrasive:

Toothpaste RDA Value
Baking soda 7
Arm & Hammer Tooth Powder 8
Weleda Salt Toothpaste 15
Elmex Sensitive Plus 30
Arm & Hammer Dental Care 35
Squigle Enamel Saver 44
Oxyfresh 45
Tom’s of Maine Sensitive 49
Arm & Hammer Peroxicare 49
Crest with Scope 51
Rembrandt Original 53
CloSYS 53
Tom’s of Maine Children’s 57
Biotene Gel 60
Colgate Regular 68
Colgate Total 70
Sensodyne 79
Aim 80
Biotene Paste with Fluoride 80
Close-Up 80
Tooth and Gum Care 83
Colgate Sensitive Max Strength 83
Aquafresh Sensitive 91
Tom’s of Maine Regular 93
Crest Regular 95
Mentadent 103
Sensodyne Extra Whitening 104
Colgate Platinum 106
Crest Sensitivity 107
Colgate Herbal 110
Aquafresh Whitening 113
Arm & Hammer Tarter Control 117
Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel 117
Close-up with Baking Soda 120
Colgate Whitening 124
Crest Extra Whitening 130
Ultra Brite 133
Crest MultiCare Whitening 144
Colgate Baking Soda Whitening 145
Pepsodent 150
Crest Rejuvenating Effects 155
Crest Pro Health Formulas 160-190
Colgate Tarter Control 165
Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Fresh Mint 168
Colgate Luminous 175
Colgate 2-in-1 Tarter Control/White 200

Keep in mind that dental experts do not all agree on the validity of RDA values, in part because test results have varied in different labs. That said, a general rule of thumb is that whitening toothpastes tend to be more abrasive, and toothpastes for sensitive teeth tend to have low abrasiveness.

(Sources: American Dental Association, Science Daily, WebMD, DentisseProfessionals.com, ConsumerSearch, Wikipedia, Satyen.com)