The Abrasion Equation

When are your teeth like a bathtub?

When you’re considering if a cleanser is too abrasive to be safe for the enamel.


Scrubbing It Clean

Cleaning pretty much anything is a balancing act. You want to scrub well enough to remove the dirt, but you don’t want to damage the surface you’re trying to clean. Abrasive cleaners can be incredibly helpful for removing dirt, adding friction to detergent power to fight firmly attached grime. On the other hand, abrasives can scratch surfaces, particularly smooth surfaces.

Scratches in a hard, smooth surface tend to collect dirt over time, making the previously clean surface look even worse than before. Even worse, the dirt in the scratches is incredibly difficult to remove, tempting someone to use a more abrasive cleaner to try and get rid of the additional soil.


What That Means

For your bathtub, it’s pretty clear what that means. People spend time and energy finding a non-abrasive or low abrasive cleaner for their tub. Tub enamel is so well known to scratch that products even include terms to indicate how low-abrasion they are in their product names.

What’s less clear to many people is that the enamel on teeth is vulnerable to scratching and staining from high abrasion products as well. In fact, high abrasion materials used to clean teeth can “clean” the enamel right off the teeth, resulting in permanent damage. Soot, sand, and ground cuttlefish bones may have scrubbed teeth a hundred years ago, but they are not considered safe for teeth anymore.


RDA Matters

RDA stands for relative dentin abrasion. Dentin is the substance of the tooth just under the enamel layer. The likelihood that an oral care product will scratch and remove too much enamel is measured in RDA units. The American Dental Association (ADA) has set an acceptable level for toothpastes at 250 RDA or less, based on studies of safe abrasion levels, while the FDA recommends a slightly more conservative 200 RDA. Anything over these levels can remove too much enamel and badly scratch dentin, causing long term or permanent harm to the teeth.


But If It’s All Natural….

Which brings us to the trend of brushing with activated charcoal. Many people are plunking down large sums of money to whiten their teeth by brushing with the black stuff. The claim is charcoal’s absorption properties will scrub the stains right off your teeth. People also see it as natural (made from coconut shells!) and assume that means it can do no harm.

There have been no studies that prove activated charcoal works better than other established whitening products. Further, there is evidence it can be harder on the enamel, leading some experts to recommend that patients who want to use activated charcoal only use it 2-3 times a week to avoid removing too much enamel. Cuttlefish bones are all natural, too, but that doesn’t make them good for your teeth.


So, For Whiter Teeth

Talk to your dentist about your whitening options, including a nanohydroxyapatite product after whitening to cut down on sensitivity. Use a safe, low abrasion tooth cleaner to keep your pearly whites clean and healthy. Your smile will thank you!

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