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Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a fine, white powder with almost innumerable household uses. Known mainly as a leavening agent, baking soda can do a lot more than make bread rise.

One of its most popular uses is as a teeth cleaner and whitener. But is it as safe and effective as regular toothpaste?

Here’s a look at the benefits and limitations of using baking soda on your teeth, and how to use it safely to remove plaque and oral bacteria.

Yes, it does work. While baking soda can’t protect your teeth from cavities as effectively as a fluoride toothpaste can, it’s still considered a good cleaning agent for your teeth.

Toothpastes containing baking soda have been shown to have antibacterial properties, which can help protect your teeth from decay.

Here’s what we know about the benefits and drawbacks of using baking soda as part of your dental hygiene regimen.

Reduces plaque and gingivitis

Biofilms are colonies of bacteria that attach to the surface of your teeth and eventually cause problems like gingivitis and cavities. Plaque is one example of a dental biofilm.

When you brush, grains of baking soda disrupt that biofilm, reducing the bacteria count and helping to prevent damage to your teeth and gums.

May reduce bacteria

Some harmful bacteria need more acidic conditions to thrive in your mouth.

A 2017 study showed that when you rinse your mouth with a baking soda and water solution, the pH in your mouth increases, making it less acidic. As a result, using baking soda as a toothpaste may make it harder for cavity-causing bacteria to multiply in your mouth.

Whitens teeth

Baking soda has natural whitening properties and has been shown to be effective at removing stains on your teeth and whitening your smile. That’s why it’s a popular ingredient in many commercial toothpastes.

Numerous studies have shown that baking soda is a mild abrasive that has the ability to remove stains from the outside of your teeth.

Is a fluoride-free option

Too much fluoride can be toxic, especially to children under 6 years old. However, it’s important to note that fluoride toxicity is rare, and the risks are only a concern when a very large amount of fluoride is consumed.

Fluoride toxicity can cause pain, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney, and heart problems. For that reason, many people prefer a toothpaste, like baking soda, that’s free of fluoride and the risks of toxicity.

Is inexpensive

At roughly 52 cents an ounce, baking soda is affordable and readily available in nearly every drugstore, grocery store, and big-box retailer.

Unappealing taste and texture

For many users, the biggest downside of brushing with straight baking soda or a baking soda paste is that it doesn’t taste very good. Baking soda’s texture may also make you feel as though you have sand in your mouth — no one’s favorite sensation.

If you want the benefits of baking soda but with a better texture, you could try one of the many commercial toothpastes that list baking soda as an ingredient.

If the texture of natural baking soda doesn’t bother you but the salty taste does, you could add 1 or 2 drops of peppermint oil to the baking soda paste to enhance the taste.

Less dramatic whitening

Baking soda is a mild abrasive. While the American Dental Association (ADA) considers baking soda safe for your enamel and dentin, some researchers have given it a low rating as a teeth whitener because it may not remove stains as effectively as some other products.

If baking soda doesn’t work well for you as a teeth whitener, you may want to consider products that contain hydrogen peroxide or microbead abrasives.

Lack of fluoride

Toothpastes approved by the ADA contain fluoride to prevent dental cavities.

Although fluoride is a natural element abundant in water and air and present in our bones and teeth, additional fluoride in toothpaste provides an extra shield against tooth decay.

Using baking soda as your only toothpaste doesn’t give you the topical fluoride that’s present in many commercial toothpastes. As a result, using baking soda alone may not give you the cavity protection you need.

To brush your teeth with baking soda, you’ll need the following:

  • a toothbrush
  • a small bowl or shot glass
  • baking soda
  • water

If you want the best of both worlds — the polishing power of baking soda and the minty flavor of toothpaste — there are plenty of commercial toothpastes available with baking soda as an ingredient.

Multiple studies show that these toothpastes are better at removing plaque than toothpastes that don’t contain baking soda.

Shop for baking soda whitening toothpastes online.

Products containing hydrogen peroxide whiten your teeth by oxidizing yellow and brown stains on the surface of your teeth. The strongest peroxide products are used in dentist offices, as certain steps need to be taken to protect your tongue and gums from the corrosive effects of the hydrogen peroxide.

Gentler products are available over the counter, but they may take several uses before you see a difference. Here’s a list of the ADA-approved products for whitening your teeth at home.

There’s some evidence that natural remedies like coconut oil, lemon peel, and activated charcoal may be effective teeth whiteners. However, it’s important to talk to your dentist to be sure these treatments are safe for your teeth.

Shop for teeth bleaching products online.

Baking soda is an inexpensive, readily available teeth cleanser. As a mild abrasive, it can lighten some tooth stains, and it can help scrub away dental plaque. However, because it doesn’t contain fluoride, it’s not as effective at preventing cavities as your typical fluoride toothpaste.

Although some people find the salty taste and sandy texture of baking soda unappealing, its availability, pH balance, and mildly abrasive properties make it a good choice for people who want to avoid using a toothpaste that contains fluoride or use it with a toothpaste that has fluoride.