Making tooth powder

Toothpaste and tooth powder in front of their boxesIt’s been almost 3 months since I switched from tooth paste to tooth powder, which seems like a good time for an update.

My teeth feel as clean as they did when I used toothpaste and I’ve gotten used to the salty taste. I’ve brushed with regular toothpaste once or twice when I was worried about bad breath (and didn’t have any mouth wash) and it now amazes me how much it foams! After getting used to the powder, toothpaste seems needlessly messy and strong-tasting. I highly recommend tooth powder over toothpaste. It’s cheaper, especially if you make your own, and involves some very simple ingredients. I also haven’t had trouble with canker sores since starting dropping toothpaste.

According to Wikipedia, pre-made toothpaste didn’t become popular until after World War I. Before that, toothpaste was considered snake oil and many people made their own tooth powder. In part, the popularity of tooth powder must have been due to convenience. Without the now-ubiquitous collapsable tube, toothpaste would have been difficult to use, especially when you were running low.

Once toothpaste caught on, tooth powder basically disappeared. I haven’t been able to find any tooth powders in regular stores like CVS (a drugstore) or Kroger (a grocery store) even though they have entire aisles of slightly different toothpastes. Luckily, the small container that I got in September is still going strong. I’ve used about a third of it, including some waste figuring out how to get it on the toothbrush. I recommend wetting the brush and then just tapping some powder on. The water makes the powder stick to the bristles, so the powder doesn’t fall off when you start brushing.

If you’re worried about bad breath, I’d also use mouth wash. I’ve heard that gargling with salt water can replace mouth wash, but it doesn’t sound very fun. Beyond bad breath, another potential concern is fluoridation. If you drink city water, you’re probably getting plenty already.

I found some recipes online for toothpaste made by mixing tooth powder (bought or homemade) with flavorful oils and hydrogen peroxide. In general, I think that’s probably overkill. If you don’t have any major dental problems, you can make simple tooth powder by mixing one part baking soda with one part sea salt (the larger crystals in sea salt help it stick to your brush and act as an abrasive). You might want to start with buying a small container of tooth powder so that you’ll have the bottle. The little spout at the top helps get the tooth powder onto the brush and not all over the counter.

If your water isn’t fluoridated (because you drink mostly bottled water or have a well) or you have a history of tooth problems, you could try mixing sodium fluoride into your tooth paste with a ratio of 1 part of sodium fluoride to every 10 of your tooth paste. This emulates the amount of fluoride in US toothpaste (between 1000 and 1100 ppm). However, be aware that fluoride is mildly toxic and can cause staining of the teeth if you get too much.

If you try it out, let me know how it works for you!

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13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Karen said,

    December 3, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    what are your thoughts on Tom’s of Maine SLS-free line (besides the obvious packaging problem, of course) … what are your other reasons for switching to powder? i use tom’s in TINY amounts and think it’s pretty good.

    by the way i enjoy your podcasts but wonder if there’s a way to make it play back from where you were listening to it if you go to comments, say, and then click back to pick up where you left off (and can’t). kind of annoying but not sure if that’s an issue you can resolve.

  2. 2

    Ian said,

    December 4, 2008 @ 9:50 am

    Having to deal with water issues fairly often at work, I would like to point out that not all city water contains fluoride. If you want to know, all water systems are required to create an annual Consumer Confidence Report, which lists what all they test for in the water, what the levels were, along with some (hopefully) useful facts and info. EPA has a database of them online, and if not you can always call up the utility company who is required to have some way of getting you a copy, too. Usually it’s the local dentists who push for water fluoridation, as it is not mandated to be done on the federal level (some states may have mandates, but I’m not sure there)

    Tooth powder sounds interesting, but I’m not sure how quick I’ll be to get rid of my tube of admittedly overly sugary paste. Maybe in the future, at least after my latest tube runs out.

  3. 3

    Jessica said,

    December 5, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

    I started brushing with plain old baking soda about three months ago as part of a budget cut. I used to use a sea salt toothpaste I spent a fortune on, but I felt it made my teeth cleaner than regular toothpaste, but I found baking soda did just as good of a job.
    I keep my baking soda in an old bottle that prenatal vitamins came in. I just shake a tiny bit into my palm and wipe it up with my wet toothbrush, then brush my teeth. Recently I went out and bought a tube of whitening toothpaste because a friend of mine from my first deployment is coming to visit me and I want to look really good when he sees me (I’ve kind of had a crush on him for a few years now), but once this tube is gone, its back to good old baking soda. I’ll have to try mixing sea salt in, but my bottle of baking soda is used for more than just tooth brushing. I also use baking soda as deodorant (just rub some on my arm pits, it works great), foot powder for my boots (do they design Army boots to stink more than regular shoes?) and facial scrub. I don’t know what adding salt will do to it’s effectiveness in those other uses.

  4. 4

    Will said,

    December 5, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

    Karen – I’ve heard of Tom of Maine’s SLS-free toothpastes, but haven’t been able to find it. Of course, I’ve been pretty happy with the tooth powder, so I also haven’t really been looking since my first hunt. In general, I also prefer fewer ingredients (that I recognize) to more ingredients. Baking soda and sea salt ranks up there for me for that reason as well as the price.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I can get the podcast to work like that. As a workaround, you could click through to the comments before starting the podcast. Then you could listen as you read the comments. Not perfect, I know, but it might be less annoying. I could probably also set it up so that the podcast only shows up once you click through to the main article if that would help.

    Very interesting, Ian! I thought that pretty much everyone had fluoridated water nowadays. Checking the water report is good advice, since I’m a big believer in the benefits of fluoride and wouldn’t want to cut it out entirely.

    I’d be happy to give you some tooth powder to try out, but it does take a couple of days to get used to it.

    Jessica – I’m glad someone else is having good experiences with tooth powder! I wouldn’t mix salt in with a multi-purpose baking soda container. You might try mixing them in a smaller container just for brushing. A small film canister would do well for that, if you have any left over from the days of physical film.

    I think using a regular toothpaste every once in a while isn’t a bad idea. When I have to meet with clients, I use some of Maggie’s toothpaste to make sure that my breath is okay. I don’t think toothpaste really goes bad, so you could use your whitening toothpaste while your friend is in town and then switch back to baking soda immediately, leaving the toothpaste for other special occasions.

  5. 5

    Leslie said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    Hi there,

    if you mix baking soda and hydrogen peroxide together, you have the best toothpaste. The h202 will help kill bacteria in your mouth that leads to tooth decay and a cosmetic dentist in nyc said it’s also great for whitening your teeth.

    like your blog, I checked it out because I wanted to make my own lasts and some friends have had shoes made by shoemakers who just used a tube sock and duct taped the foot over the sock and then…sounds like Glen’s method after that…..

  6. 6

    Will said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    That’s a good idea. Thanks, Leslie!

    How well does the duct tape method work? It seems like it would be easy to bend the last out of shape.

  7. 7

    Jasmine Turner said,

    May 1, 2010 @ 1:36 am

    Bad breath or halitosis can be easily elimated by using mouthwash with hexetidine or triclosan.`,;

  8. 8

    Sarah said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    I tried making my own toothpowder today based off your 1 part baking soda, 1 part salt recommendation. Oy very that’s salty! Its sad that I am so accustomed to sugary toothpaste. Here is what I am wondering though – this is very similar to how people used to clean their teeth, and in the past dental hygiene has not been the best. I know there is fluoride in my water, but if I use toothpowder will I have more cavity/breath/whatever issues? What has your experience been? (since its been a year and a half since this post I am even more curious. Have you stuck it out?) thanks!

  9. 9

    Sarah said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

    wow wow, sorry, it has been like 3 years! even better! how are your teeth?

  10. 10

    Will said,

    October 4, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    I’m not the best person to use as a comparison since my teeth have always been good, but I’ll give you an update. I continued using tooth powder for about six months after this post (so nine months total). The tooth powder didn’t really do anything for bad breath, so I used a mouthwash as well.

    My teeth are still fine. If I remember correctly, I switched because my current batch started clumping up (it got wet somehow) and I found a good SLS-free toothpaste that wasn’t so sweet. I believe it’s one of the Arm & Hammer brands. I also switched to an electric toothbrush more recently and the powder doesn’t work particularly well with that. I do find myself using a lot less toothpaste at a time now and that reduces the foaming to something more manageable.

    My parents remember using tooth powder when they were kids, so it hasn’t been that long since people were using it. I think the bigger change was the addition of fluoride to the water and toothpastes.

  11. 11

    kelsey said,

    April 7, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    I think the best reason these days to use tooth powder would be the fact that there is glycerin in toothpaste which apparently coats your teeth and doesn’t allow calcium and other minerals the help rebuild and protect your teeth! Has anyone else read or heard of this?

  12. 12

    C said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

    What about adding xylitol to the powder… It naturally fights tooth decay, inhibits. Bacteria growth. :). Any thoughts?

  13. 13

    Terry said,

    December 3, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    Really– flouride ?

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