Toothpaste expires, but using toothpaste past its expiration date isn’t harmful. It just isn’t beneficial. That’s because the active ingredients become less effective over time.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) require toothpaste to have an expiration date. Each individual tube of toothpaste should have its own expiration date printed on the box and tube. It’s usually about two years after the toothpaste was manufactured.
Fluoride is the main ingredient that helps fight cavities and keep teeth healthy. It works by supporting healthy tooth enamel. Enamel is the shiny, white, visible part of the tooth, and it’s the tooth’s first line of defense against decay.
Preventing enamel loss is extremely important because once enamel is worn down (by decay and other environmental damage), it can never grow back.
The FDA requires an expiration date on all food and medicine to ensure safety and quality. When toothpaste contains fluoride to fight cavities, the fluoride is considered a drug, so the FDA regulates expiration dates on fluoride toothpaste.
The ADA also sets national standards for dental practices across the country, including toothpaste expiration dates. You should only buy toothpaste with the official ADA Seal of Approval. The ADA regulates quality and safety of all dental practices and products.
Toothpaste for kids may not contain fluoride and therefore may not be required to have an expiration date printed on the tube. However, brands may still recommend tossing an old tube after a few months to ensure highest quality and efficacy.
It’s not necessarily dangerous to use expired toothpaste, but it’s also not beneficial.
The whole point of toothpaste is to use a quality product that effectively cleans your teeth and prevents cavities. Neither is guaranteed to happen if you use old toothpaste.
Expired toothpaste may:
- contain less-effective fluoride
- be dried out
- contain separated ingredients
- have an inconsistent texture
- contain growing bacteria or fungi
Toothpaste is a huge part of global oral health practices, but it’s not as important as simply brushing your teeth. The friction and movement of tooth brushing is the most important way to clean teeth as well as prevent cavities and decay.
That said, dentists always recommend toothpaste because it contains ingredients that benefit oral health.
Toothpaste usually contains:
- fluoride to support healthy tooth enamel and fight cavities
- detergents and abrasives to remove plaque buildup
- antisensitivity agents to make teeth less sensitive
- antimicrobials to prevent buildup (plaque), which causes cavities
- humectant, which keeps toothpaste moist
- thickening agents
- peroxide to remove tooth stains
Oral health is closely linked with overall health. This link is currently a hot topic for science and research.
Experts recommend these tips for optimal oral health:
- Brush your teeth twice a day, with fluoride toothpaste, for two minutes each time.
- Floss (it doesn’t matter if you floss before or after brushing).
- Don’t snack between meals.
- Don’t drink sugary beverages.
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
As for other dental products:
- Floss doesn’t expire but may lose its flavoring over time.
- Prescription mouthwash expires. Over-the-counter mouthwash technically doesn’t expire, but it’s very likely to start growing bacteria or fungi. Always pour mouthwash into a separate cup before using it to prevent germs from sticking on the bottle.
- Replace toothbrushes every three to four months (unless you get sick and vomit, in which case you should brush your teeth and toss the toothbrush).
Many dentists recommend both flossing and using mouth wash. But if you choose one, dental professionals still recommend flossing over mouthwash, except in cases where a prescription mouthwash may be recommended to treat a specific condition.
If your toothpaste has expired, don’t use it to brush your teeth. Instead try toothpaste for:
- polishing metal
- cleaning the bathroom sink
- removing crayon from walls
- removing gummy residue off the bottom of an iron
- buffing your fingernails
Toothpaste expires because it contains fluoride, which may degrade over time. Fluoride is the active ingredient in toothpaste that fights cavities.
Both the FDA and ADA set regulations and standards for toothpaste expiration dates. Check printed expiration dates before purchasing or using toothpaste.
My local water contains fluoride. Do I still need to use a toothpaste with fluoride, and is it possible to expose my teeth to too much fluoride?
It is highly recommended to use a fluoride tooth paste. An adult does not expose their teeth to too much fluoride. But for children under the age of six, it could be an issue. During enamel formation in young children, fluoride has to be monitored: a smear the size of a grain of rice from first tooth up to three years; a pea-sized amount for three years to six years. Young children should always be supervised to ensure they spit rather than swallow to limit fluoride consumption.Christine Frank, DDSAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.