This month, Natural Foods Merchandiser's secret shopper visited a natural products store in California ans asked the question: I keep hearing about tooth powders, but I’m not sure what the advantages are or how to select a product. Can you help?
Store: We only carry a few powders right now, but they’re getting more popular. People like them because they have simpler ingredients than toothpastes, a little bit goes a long way and they’re great for travel.
Natural Foods Merchandiser: Do they work as well as toothpaste?
Store: They really seem to. You just put a little powder on your brush and add water. These ones here have a lot of essential oils instead of chemicals, although most of the toothpastes we sell do too. I think shoppers like the cost and convenience.
How did this retailer do?
Our expert educator: Dr. Edmond Hewlett, DDS, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry and spokesman for the American Dental Association
The ideal things that you want any toothpaste or powder to do are clean teeth, remove the bacterial film that causes gum disease and cavities, and remove stains. Typically, both powders and pastes contain a variety of mild abrasives that do a good job of these tasks. One caution about powders, however, is the formulations vary widely, and it’s difficult to know just how mild or abrasive they are. You want the powder to be abrasive enough to clean, but not so abrasive that it wears down teeth.
As the retailer noted, most powders also contain essential oils such as clove oil or peppermint. There’s substantial evidence that these oils help battle bacteria in the mouth; there’s no proof that they’ll harm anything. Another common toothpaste ingredient that’s almost never found in powders is sodium lauryl sulfate. This foaming detergent helps clean the surface of teeth, but it can irritate oral tissues, so many people prefer products without it. Tooth powders don’t usually contain fluoride either. There’s decades of evidence showing that fluoride makes enamel harder to reduce risk of tooth decay, so that’s another consideration when choosing between a paste and a powder.
I don’t think any tooth powders are ADA approved, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. Manufacturers apply for this seal voluntarily, subjecting their products to rigorous scientific evaluation before they’re approved or rejected. But many manufacturers don’t submit their products, so the fact that a powder or paste doesn’t have the ADA seal doesn’t mean it’s bad.