Healthy Body

‘I’m a Dentist—Here’s Why Minty Doesn’t Equal Clean’

Photo: Getty Images/ visualspace

Toothpaste has been around for a long time, taking different forms across cultures. For instance, from 3,000 to 5,000 B.C., ancient Egyptian toothpaste contained ashes from oxen hooves, myrrh, eggshells, and pumice. Ancient Greeks and Romans added bones and oysters shells to their's while, at the same time, herbs like ginseng, salt, and types of mint were incorporated in China and India. The last ingredient—mint—has been a toothpaste cornerstone we still see today.

Part of mint's appeal is that it helps mask less pleasant teeth-cleaning ingredients. However, there's some credence to its inclusion throughout the ages. A 2013 study found that mint mouthwash helped improve the instance of halitosis, aka bad breath. And a 2019 article published by the Universal Journal of Pharmaceutical Research says that peppermint oil has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, along with a beneficial cooling sensation. 

Even though there might be some oral benefits to using mint, it's not exactly the panacea you might imagine. Minty flavors alone do not always equal clean, according to Rob Raimondi, DDS, dentist, and prosthodontist at One Manhattan Dental. Dr. Raimondi says that the minty flavors in dental products can obscure some less than ideal ingredients. Mintiness is great, but Dr. Raimondi broke down some minty things to avoid and some good signs of cleanliness. 

Here are a few minty products to avoid

1. Sugary breath mints and gum

In maybe one of the best examples of how mintiness can be misleading, sugary mints and gum can be a risk for cavities if used regularly. Of course, consumption of these is okay in moderation, but it serves as a good reminder that just because something is minty—doesn't always make it good for your mouth. However, sugar-free xylitol gum can be beneficial for your teeth, Dr. Raimondi says.

2. Abrasive toothpaste

There is a broad range of minty toothpaste, but not all are created equal. "The way that many whitening kinds of toothpaste, charcoal toothpaste being one of the worst offenders, work is that they are essentially scrubbing away the very top layer of your teeth where the stains are," says Dr. Raimondi. As a result, you get a white look, but this is coming at the expense of your tooth enamel.

Dr. Raimondi recommends avoiding toothpaste that promises immaculate whitening results, charcoal toothpaste, or kinds of toothpaste containing "sodium lauryl sulfate" for this reason. He also adds that it's better to do an at-home or professional whitening kit infrequently than constantly trying to whiten your teeth with an abrasive toothpaste.

3. Mouthwash that contains alcohol

Alcohol has long been an ingredient in some of the most well-known mouthwashes; however, studies have found that alcohol's drying effect can actually put your more at risk for developing cavities. This is not ideal because saliva contains bacteria-fighting agents and neutralizes acid. Luckily, there are alcohol-free mouthwash options featuring antibacterial, anti-gingivitis ingredients, Dr. Raimondi says.

There are reliable signs and habits to notice (beyond mintiness)

1. Brushing without bleeding

"The ultimate sign of a healthy mouth is a mouth that is as free as possible from inflammation-causing bacteria and therefore has very little inflammation," Dr. Raimondi says. A major marker of inflammation is when your gums are puffy, red, and bleed easily. A dental health green light would be no red or pink in the sink.

To get here, Dr. Raimondi and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day and flossing once. Over time, you should hopefully see a decrease in gum inflammation, especially with regular trips to the dentist. If you don't see a reduction in bleeding over time, Dr. Raimondi recommends visiting your dentist to troubleshoot possible reasons, increase your cleaning schedule, perform clinical gum deep-cleanings, or get a prescription for special toothpaste.

2. Incorporating fluoride into your regimen

Some ingredients are great for your teeth, like fluoride, according to Dr. Raimondi. Fluoride is important for your dental health because it supports remineralizing of your tooth enamel which is important in preventing cavities, keeping your teeth strong, and reducing teeth sensitivity, according to the ADA.

Getting fluoride-containing toothpaste for sensitive teeth is a great way to make sure you're not using something super abrasive and still making sure you're getting a solid clean.

3. Scraping tongue

One last thing you can add to a dental routine for a clean mouth? Tongue scraping at the end of brushing! This is because many bacteria reside on your tongue that can be eliminated through this action. Scraping your tongue can help fight cavity-causing bacteria, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You can round out your twice-daily dental routine by scraping your tongue at the end of your routine and swishing with water or mouth wash afterward, the Cleveland Clinic adds. Just make sure that you're scraping gently and not feeling like you scratched your tongue afterward.

All in all, mintiness does have its benefits—that feeling of freshness is great in and of itself. And, you can put your mind at ease by checking all of the other boxes that leave your teeth feeling refreshed, too. 

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