Tooth Powder 101

An introduction to tooth powder, it's effectiveness, homemade recipes and more.

Updated on October 23rd, 2020
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Why on earth are we talking about tooth powder? Well, it serves as a great alternative to toothpaste (more below). However, more importantly, for us ultralight backpacking folk, it is an opportunity to potentially cut an ounce from your pack weight. It is often thought of as "dehydrated toothpaste".

What is Tooth Powder?

Tooth powder is a mix of powders designed to clean your teeth and freshen your breath (see dentifrice).

Tooth powder is not literally a dehydrated toothpaste. It was first used in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans who mixed charcoal or ash with ground up bones, hoofs and oyster shells to create a gritty powder. The Chinese and English also developed their own formulas adding spices, herbs, plant oils, and honey.

Thankfully, we now have much more palatable powders that clean the teeth and gums. Almost all modern tooth powders use baking soda or calcium carbonate as their main ingredient with additives to enhance the cleaning power of the paste or add some flavor.

What are the Active Ingredients?

Commercial formulas will add in fluoride, sweeteners, flavors and the detergent sodium lauryl sulfate. Often times, smaller companies try to keep their ingredients more natural by using a combination of calcium carbonate or baking soda, salt, clay, and essential oils. Some formulas add activated charcoal as a natural whitening agent (more below).

How Effective is Tooth Powder (vs Toothpaste)?

Tooth powders may sound like someone's selling snake oil. However, studies have shown that, when used properly, tooth powders work equally as well as toothpaste at maintaining oral health. A recent study even suggests tooth powders are more effective at controlling plaque and gingivitis than toothpaste. In summary, tooth powders do in fact work well as long as you use them correctly.

How to Use Tooth Powder?

You use tooth powder just like toothpaste. Dab a bit of the powder on your toothbrush... and brush. Don’t use your finger. It may be more convenient and lighter in your pack, but a toothbrush will do a better job getting into all the nooks and crannies of your teeth.

What about Charcoal?

Using charcoal powder in the same way you would use any other tooth powder blend is highly controversial. Charcoal is the hot new trend. However, because it is black, people may tend to over-brush to remove it which can damage the enamel on your teeth. It also tends to stain tooth replacements or restorations. It might be safest to stick to formulas that use baking soda or calcium carbonate as their main ingredients. 

homemade tooth powder© Chiot's Run (CC BY 2.0)

Popular Homemade Ingredients to Use

Making your own toothpaste is simple. Some ingredients like baking soda can be found on the shelves of your local grocery store, while others require you to visit either a specialty health food store or shop online.

You can mix and match these ingredients for your own homemade recipe:

  • Baking Soda: commonly-used abrasive that gently cleans teeth and remove stains.

  • Calcium Powder: cleans and whitens teeth... and has extra calcium.

  • Bentonite Clay: binds particles and contains minerals that can remineralize teeth.

  • Sea Salt: helps soothe irritated gums, contains minerals.

  • Ground Cloves (or Cinnamon): natural antibacterial properties, adds flavor.

  • Sage: whitens teeth.

  • Peppermint (or other Essential Oils): has antiseptic and pain-relieving properties, soothes sore gums, adds flavor.

  • Xylitol: adds sweetness.

Homemade Recipe Using 4 Ingredients

Measure out each of these and mix them together. Store in a jar in a cool place.  

  1. 1 tablespoon baking soda

  2. 1 tablespoon bentonite clay powder

  3. 1 tablespoon calcium powder

  4. 1/2 tablespoon sea salt

  5. (optional flavor) ground mint, sage, cinnamon, peppermint

    Here are some other popular blends:

    Popular Commercial Tooth Powders

    If DIY isn’t your thing, there are several companies making a variety of different tooth powders that you can order online. Colgate even produces a tooth powder (sold mainly in India and the Middle East). Here are some of the most popular options on the market.

    Colgate Tooth Powder - best tooth powder, tooth powder vs toothpaste, does tooth powder really work


    Colgate Tooth Powder is basically Colgate toothpaste in a powdered form. The commercial formula has calcium carbonate, sodium lauryl sulfate, flavor, sodium monoflurophosphate, and sodium saccharin.

    See Colgate

    Dirty Mouth Organic Toothpowder - best tooth powder, tooth powder vs toothpaste, does tooth powder really work

    Dirty Mouth 

    Available in different flavors and with or without whitening, Dirty Mouth Organic Tooth Powder is an all-natural tooth powder with organic ingredients including Bentonite, Kaolinte (white clay), sodium bicarbonate, Montmorillonite ( French green clay), Mentha spircata (spearmint oil).

    See Dirty Mouth

    Uncle Harry's Natural Tooth Powder - best tooth powder, tooth powder vs toothpaste, does tooth powder really work

    Uncle Harry's 

    With a variety of spices, Uncle Harry's Natural Tooth Powder is one of the most flavorful tooth powders on our list. Ingredients include calcium carbonate (natural chalk), sea salt, mustard seed powder; essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptus, clove, wintergreen, and oregano.

    Uncle Harry's
    Kelly Hodgkins photo

    About Kelly Hodgkins

    By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.

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    After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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