Does Toothpaste Expire?
Short answer: Yes but don’t worry about it too much.
This is a common question for people to ask. Many people don’t even think about it. For a certain subset of the population it is one of the first things that comes to mind. For most people, it isn’t something you are likely to have paid a huge amount of attention to. You might have been sitting there one day and thought, “Does toothpaste expire? Is that a thing?”. This is a valid question and a valid concern as many things do expire. Yes, toothpaste is one of these things but it doesn’t expire in the same way that other things do.
Expired toothpaste is totally harmless. It doesn’t go bad like food. It doesn’t just stop working either. You don’t have to worry that it will just stop working after a certain arbitrary date. It isn’t as good as when it is new so it does matter how old it is. The expiration date is good as a general general rule of them. You can use to to gauge when toothpaste is starting to get old. That is just the thing though, it is just starting to get old. I would view it as losing “freshness”. It may not be quite as effective and it might not taste as good. It is really just a matter of effectiveness, not a matter of safety.
It Still Works
Even after the expiration date toothpaste will still work. It still gets rid of excess sugars and acids stopping them from harming your teeth. Some of the extra ingredients may not necessarily work as well. They will basically lose their potency. This means that it might not be quite as good at doing extra things like strengthening enamel, etc. The paste will still retain its ability to perform its primary function of cleaning long past the expiration date. Remember, even a toothbrush by itself can be really effective at cleaning your teeth. A good percentage of cleaning is mechanical. That doesn’t mean you should skip the paste, just don’t get too worried about it. Using expired toothpaste is certainly better than using nothing.
What is the main take away from this? Don’t buy it new if it is expired but if you already have an expired tube at home, keep using it. So when you are in the store, looking at tubes of toothpaste, check the expiration date and buy one that has not expired yet. Better yet, buy one that has a while to go before that date. If you are at home and you are feeling curious, take a look at the date on your toothpaste. Keep it either way.
I’ve heard dentists mention that they wouldn’t recommend throwing it away until the point where it can no longer be squeezed from the tube. Basically, any degradation is minimal and the toothpaste will remain effective until the point where it becomes physically unusable. Once it is completely dried up and can’t be squeezed out of the tooth paste, then you could really say that shouldn’t be used anymore. Still, it isn’t a safety issue, just unusable at that point. I’ve never seen toothpaste get this old. It is usually used up much, much faster than that. Even something that has been forgotten in an old drawer for years probably won’t reach that point.
Depends on Toothpaste Ingredients
So, does toothpaste expire? Under what circumstances does this occur? This depends heavily on the ingredients. While the main cleaning ingredients will tend to work fine for years up until the point where they actually dry up, some of the other extra ingredients may not. They don’t just stop working but they may not be as effective. They can lose their potency very gradually, over a long period of time. This all depends on the specific ingredients.
What this means is that these extra ingredients won’t protect as well as when they were fresh. Much of the degradation of effectiveness will be dependant on the specific ingredients. This will vary from brand to brand and between different lines of paste.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - This is a main cleaning ingredient. It functions as a cheap, effective foaming agent and it has soap like qualities. It may lose potency over time. This isn’t a huge concern because it only loses some of its potency. It isn’t even strictly necessary. Many people prefer not to have it in their toothpaste due to its potential negative properties. It is a controversial ingredient and often times is left out all together. A little bit of degradation isn’t a problem.
Fluoride - The fluoride composition might change a bit. This may reduce its ability to be delivered. Basically it may lose some of its ability to bind to the enamel of your teeth. Fluoride help to prevent tooth decay by strengthening the enamel which basically provides a stronger protective layer around your teeth. You may or may not car about this feature. Either way its effectiveness will only be degraded a little bit over a long period of time. At the time of expiration it should still have almost all of its strength. This is another controversial ingredient that some people prefer to not even have in their toothpaste at all. Having it lose a tiny bit of strength isn’t the worst thing ever.
Triclosan - This acts as an antimicrobial agent. As with other “extra” ingredients, it may lose some of its effectiveness. This is another “nice to have” type ingredient that isn’t 100% needed. It does add some extra beneficial functionality that may be impacted by aging. As with the other ingredients it is also controversial and some people prefer not to have it at all. Many toothpastes don’t include it. So, again having it loose just a little bit of its potency won’t ruin the entire tube. It should be just fine.
Beyond this you may notice some more obvious, superficial changes. The texture of the toothpaste may sometimes change. The viscosity could be altered and it can get clumpy. The toothpaste may not come out of the tube as well. This can be a bit annoying and can give you a valid reason to replace an old tube of toothpaste (you don’t have to but I would). Once it is completely dried out and crusted over, you don’t have much choice though. You need to go out and buy some more.
Does Toothpaste Expire? - Official Viewpoints
The ADA (American Dental Association) and the FDA (Food and Drug Association) both have guidelines that require toothpaste manufacturers to have an expiration date. This is an interesting thing to consider. On the one hand you might say that the only reason they need a date in the first place is because they are required to have one. We could speculate that it is just an arbitrary date selected so that they can remain in compliance with regulations. There is some truth to this. On the other hand though, you could say that the reason that the FDA and ADA have these requirements for manufacturers is that there is a good reason. They may require this because toothpaste does degrade and there needs to be some guideline and at least some rule of thumb. This also holds some truth, as we have already seen.
These regulations, when taken into consideration, really just serve to support what we already know. Toothpaste does expire. It does lose some of its effectiveness and it isn’t a big deal.
Companies usually set the expiration date to about two years after a tube of toothpaste is manufactured. It is usually good for about one year after that before it really starts to degrade and it is still good for a long time after that too. As time passes it just slowly loses effectiveness. It won’t protect as well but still remains good for cleaning teeth. Just pay attention to the label. You might not want to use a tube that has been sitting on a shelf in your basement for 10 or 15 years (you could if you wanted though). I could totally see leaving it in your bathroom closet for two years. That isn’t hard to imagine. We wouldn’t recommend stockpiling it in your basement though.
Expiration dates are seen by many as just a really great marketing scheme. It does make sense. If you want people to buy more toothpaste, adding an expiration date is a great way to make that happen. You could imagine that they have charts showing huge increases in profit that correlate to the addition of expiration dates. Dentists have backed this idea up. The best part is that since the FDA and ADA have rules about this, the companies could just claim that it is a requirement. That is, assuming anyone were able to really question them on this.
To be fair, it is kind of like the manufacturer saying, “We are no longer responsible after this date. We can’t guarantee its effectiveness.”
One consideration that has been brought up is bacterial or mold growth. I have never seen this happen and can’t imagine it coming up as an issue. I would speculate that it could theoretically be possible with some more obscure brands of toothpaste. Most toothpaste has chemical ingredients that are very unfriendly to both bacteria and mold. If you do not experience something like this by the time you reach the expiration date, chances are you are safe and are not going to see it come up at all. You are more likely to see your entire tube dry up before this happens.
Alternative Uses For Toothpaste
To really be fair, I’ve seen some (very few) dentists say that it isn’t safe to use toothpaste after it has expired. These people are the vast minority of dentists and don’t represent the average opinion in the dental industry. If you want to be extra careful though, you can always use expired toothpaste for other things besides brushing. Toothpaste is great for cleaning things.
There are a ton of alternative uses for toothpaste. These are just a few examples:
- Cleaning piano keys - If you have an old piano (or just a heavily used piano) and you want to clean up the keys you can use toothpaste to do this. Yes, they do make a specialized cleaner for this but it generally costs more and you might not have it laying around the house. Toothpaste can be bought anywhere (ex. Gas station). The same can’t be said for piano key cleaner.
- Prevent your goggles from fogging up - If you have goggles and you are tired of having them fog up, using an old tube of toothpaste is a neat little trick you can use to solve this problem.
- Prevent the fogging of bathroom mirrors - It can prevent your bathroom mirrors from fogging up. You already have it right there in your bathroom. If you want to shave or put on makeup after taking a steamy shower, this can be a lifesaver.
- Polishing jewelry - Do you want a quick way to shine your jewelry? Scrub it up with a bit of toothpaste. You can even use your old toothbrush to scrub it with too. No need to take your ring off either. For a quick polishing, you can leave it on. WARNING - don’t drop your ring down the drain.
- Cleaning sneakers or scuffs from shoes - Are your shoes all scuffed up and dirty? Do you need a quick and convenient way to clean them? Just use toothpaste.
- Put it on pimples or zits - We actually have an entire article on this, it may or may not be a great idea. Read up on it before you actually do this.
Of course all of these things will work totally fine regardless of whether your toothpaste is expired or not. Your piano keys don’t care if your fluoride is working optimally. Your shoes won’t get cancer because of the Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. You don’t have to worry about any of this stuff when you aren’t putting the toothpaste in your mouth.