Is It Okay To Brush Your Teeth Without Toothpaste? (Dry Brushing Teeth)

Is It Okay To Brush Your Teeth Without Toothpaste? (Dry Brushing Teeth)

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH🔬 Evidence Based
Is It Okay To Brush Your Teeth Without Toothpaste? (Dry Brushing Teeth)

You ran out of toothpaste and are running late for work. You decide to dry brush your teeth quickly before you head out for the day, but  are left wondering if its okay to brush your teeth without toothpaste? Does it work as well? Is it effective at all? Surprise, surprise. It turns out that dry brushing can have its own benefits. But it’s important to know when toothpaste can help serve as an important adjunct to your brushing routine, so don’t ditch it altogether.

Can We Brush Our Teeth Without Toothpaste?

While technically the act of tooth brushing alone is effective at removing plaque bacteria from your teeth without toothpaste, there are still many benefits that come along with adding toothpaste twice a day. So, the short answer here is yes, it IS okay to brush your teeth without toothpaste. But before you get ahead of yourself, let’s be sure we are aware of when toothpaste can help benefit our teeth and gums and understand which types to use. 

If you have a sensitive gag reflex, like young children and even pregnant women, you may choose to dry brush your teeth without toothpaste. Young children that are unable to spit out excess toothpaste and/or have sensory issues may prefer to brush without toothpaste. Pregnant women may experience issues when brushing because of morning sickness, and some may need to avoid certain flavors, causing them to dry brush their teeth during the earlier trimesters.

Bottom line, brushing without toothpaste is better than not brushing at all.

Pro Tip: Chew sugar-free gum throughout your day. Chewing sugar-free gum is beneficial for your teeth as it helps produce more saliva. Saliva keeps your mouth clean, combats germs, and prevents cavities. Sugar-free chewing gum also doesn't feed the harmful bacteria in your mouth like regular gum does, and it can even help clean your teeth and freshen your breath.

Why and When Do We Use Toothpaste, Then?

If just brushing with a toothbrush alone can thoroughly remove plaque and food particles from your teeth, why do we even need toothpaste? 

Think of it this way: toothpaste is like a bonus to your oral hygiene routines. When we brush away plaque bacteria with fluoride toothpaste, we not only remove the germs that cause tooth decay, we also strengthen our tooth enamel by providing an extra protection to double down on reducing decay. Removing plaque reduces your risk of getting cavities AND applying fluoride to the tooth surface reduces tooth decay at an even higher rate. Kind of seems like a no-brainer, right? The same can go for toothpaste that is made to help with sensitive teeth. If you remove plaque with the mechanical motion of brushing and incorporate an anti-sensitivity toothpaste at the same time, your teeth will surely benefit from this. But without the sensitivity toothpaste, your teeth might still hurt whenever you eat or drink something cold or acidic. 

On a related note, most toothpastes have natural ingredients like mint, which also boost your breath. Without using them, your mouth may still feel or smell a little…bland. Brushing without toothpaste will not help in the bad breath department!

Dry Brushing Teeth Benefits: What Are They?

Dry brushing means you’re brushing your teeth without toothpaste. Some research has even shown that dry brushing is more effective at removing plaque than brushing with toothpaste. In fact, research published by the American Dental Association found that patients that dry brushed prior to using toothpaste had an increased amount of plaque removal AND reduced bleeding response. It’s important to note that these patients did follow up their dry brush session with toothpaste afterward. It’s thought that the minty foaming action made their mouths feel cleaner, so brushing without it beforehand actually caused them to physically remove more plaque from their teeth. Dry brushing also has benefits such as not having to spit and rinse, as there is no paste to get rid of, which can be handy if you’re on the go and still need to gently brush between your teeth.

Toothpaste Options to Avoid

While the options for toothpastes can seem endless today, there are a few you may want to avoid in your oral hygiene routine. As you compare different types of toothpastes and the ingredients included, be on the lookout for those that have:

  • Charcoal: Charcoal toothpastes often claim to whiten and brighten teeth. While this may be true, it comes at a cost. Charcoal based toothpastes can be highly abrasive in some situations. This abrasiveness can cause scratching of the outer enamel layer of your teeth and dental work, ultimately damaging them. The micro scratches lead to an increased likelihood of staining, tooth sensitivity, and gum recession.
  • Non Fluoride Toothpastes: We use toothpaste primarily to maintaining healthy teeth and remineralize teeth, which can be achieved with fluoride or hydroxyapatite. Using toothpaste with fluoride helps prevent cavities by strengthening tooth enamel, repairs early tooth decay, and offers protection for teeth across all ages.
  • SLS: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, also known as SLS, is a synthetic detergent found in many toothpastes (it causes the “foaming” action) and for some people it can cause adverse reactions. Some individuals are highly sensitive to this ingredient and may experience allergy-like reactions such as sores, rashes, and increased tooth sensitivity. 

Brushing Without Toothpaste Recap

The short answer to whether it’s okay to dry brush without toothpaste, is yes. Especially if you are worried about whether or not you’re getting all of the plaque off your teeth when you brush your teeth.

We brush our teeth to remove plaque so it doesn't harden into tartar, which can cause tooth decay and lead to gum disease, potentially resulting in a dental abscess. Major dental health issues are almost always preventable with proper dental hygiene routines and professional dental cleanings. Brush your teeth to prevent problems!

Dry brushing your teeth before using toothpaste and brushing again can help improve both your tooth and gum health. But don’t forget the important benefits of using fluoride toothpaste as part of your oral care routine for healthy teeth. Always discuss these needs with your dentist and dental hygienist to determine what works best!

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Last updated onMarch 14, 2024Here is our process

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