Be honest. How old is your toothpaste? If there’s an almost empty tube lingering on your bathroom counter or a long-forgotten box gathering dust under the sink, it may be time to check the expiration date. Just like with most other personal care products, there comes a day when key ingredients become less effective — and toothpaste is no different.
So if you’ve ever wondered, does toothpaste expire? the answer is a resounding yes. Generally, the oral care product contains a number of ingredients, according to Dr. Michaela Tozzi, a general and cosmetic dentist: fluoride, the main active that’s used for fighting tooth decay; zinc citrate to help reduce plaque buildup; calcium carbonate to remove stains; humectants to trap water in toothpaste and make it creamy; and flavoring agents for taste. You can either use those that are fluoride-based or fluoride-free formulas to keep your teeth healthy and cavity-free, which will affect how long it lasts.
According to Tozzi, toothpaste that contains fluoride should be good for about two years after the manufacture date on the package, which means that the tube you bought at the beginning of 2020 is likely a-OK. If the toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride, she recommends replacing it after a year.
Apart from looking at the expiration date, which should be printed on both the tube and box, Dr. Sharon Huang, DDS, MICOI, a dentist and founder of Les Belles NYC, says you might also notice that the color or consistency seems off or that the flavor is less intense (i.e., less minty) if your toothpaste is expired. It might also be separated or appear dried out.
Keep in mind, though, that not all kinds of toothpaste are created equal. “The ingredients in toothpaste can be highly variable these days,” adds Dr. Joyce Kahng, a cosmetic dentist and owner of Orange + Magnolia Dental Studio, pointing to more natural formulas on the market. “[Toothpaste] can be as simple as water and baking soda,” she says, and some of them might not have a standard ingredients list. If you’re using one of these for your dental health, pay attention to whatever expiration date is listed on the product. Or, to be extra safe, look for toothpaste that has an ADA (American Dental Association) seal for options that are vetted by the pros. Note that tubes of toothpaste with the ADA seal contain fluoride, says Kahng, which means they’ll last for two years after being manufactured.
What Happens If You Use Expired Toothpaste?
If you’re now worried about using potentially expired toothpaste this morning, don’t sweat — it won’t hurt you. The main risk of using too-old toothpaste is that it’ll be less effective in keeping your teeth healthy. That’s especially the case if the all-important fluoride has started to break down, says Huang.
As a refresher, Huang explains that cavities are caused, in part, by decalcification or a loss of minerals. And fluoride helps prevent cavities by remineralizing the enamel of your teeth. “The fluoride is not as effective as it is supposed to be [when expired], thus making your teeth more susceptible to attacks by bacteria [which can lead to cavities],” she tells Bustle.
How Much Toothpaste Should You Use Each Time?
If you’re using the correct amount of toothpaste and you brush your teeth on a regular basis, you’ll definitely go through your entire tube before it expires. Tozzi recommends squeezing out a pea-sized amount each time. “Anything more is unnecessary,” she says. “One tube should last about a month to a month and a half if you’re brushing twice a day, as you should be.”
What To Do With Expired Toothpaste
Have some expired toothpaste lying around? Don’t immediately chuck it in the trash. Toothpaste is an all-star that works as a makeshift cleansing agent. From polishing metal bathroom fixtures to removing scuffs on shoes and shining the headlights on your car (for real!), there are many hacks to use the stuff for.
This is especially true for toothpaste that contains baking soda, a natural ingredient that’s often found in cleaning products. So the next time you come across a tube that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, give it a second life by using it around the house.
Collins, L.Z. (2005). The effect of a calcium carbonate/perlite toothpaste on the removal of extrinsic tooth stain in two weeks. Int Dent J. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16004250/
Lynch, R. (2011). Zinc in the mouth, its interactions with dental enamel and possible effects on caries; a review of the literature. Int Dent J. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21762155/
Dr. Michaela Tozzi, general and cosmetic dentist
Dr. Sharon Huang, DDS, MICOI, dentist
Dr. Joyce Kahng, cosmetic dentist