Fact Checked

Does Toothpaste Expire?

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

June 27, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

Have you ever come across an old tube of expired toothpaste and wondered if it's still safe to use? Chances are you probably used it since it may have looked safe. Don't worry; you're not in grave danger.

While it may not be harmful to use expired toothpaste, the oral health benefits are no longer there.

Toothpaste contains ingredients that expire after a few years. Brushing your teeth with old toothpaste doesn't kill harmful bacteria.

So, why does toothpaste expire? This article breaks down why toothpaste expires, the essential ingredients, and how to care for your products.

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Why does toothpaste expire?

The active ingredients in toothpaste have a time-sensitive shelf life. A network of active and inactive ingredients goes into keeping toothpaste stable.

If you use expired toothpaste, you won't reap any of the cavity-fighting benefits.

Toothpaste shelf life

The American Dental Association (ADA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require toothpaste to set expiration dates.

Shelf lives vary by brand. However, most toothpaste expires after two years. Your dentist can recommend you a good toothpaste if yours has expired. 

Inactive and active ingredients in toothpaste:

Ingredients vary by toothpaste brand. Below are some of the most common inactive and active ingredients found in toothpaste.

Fluoride

Fluoride is an active ingredient approved by the American Dental Association. Fluoride is considered a safe mineral. It naturally occurs in rivers, lakes, and some oceans and is often referred to as 'nature's cavity fighter.'

Fluoride is the number one active ingredient found in toothpaste. The three most common types of fluoride used in toothpaste are sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride, and monofluorophosphate. Prescription toothpaste prescribed by a dentist or oral specialist contains higher fluoride concentrations.

Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and helps your mouth fight cavities.

Abrasive and antimicrobial agents

Abrasive agents are gentle abrasives or enzymes that help polish and whiten the teeth by removing surface stains. Tiny dehydrated silica gel and other fortifying ingredients clean your teeth.

Antimicrobial agents help with preventing cavities, gingivitis, and plaque buildup.

Most toothpastes also contain desensitizing agents to help with tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

Detergents

One of the most satisfying parts of brushing your teeth is the foaming and cleansing effect. Detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium N-laurel sarcosinate create that sudsy foaming action. Detergents also help dissolve plaque and remove food from hard-to-reach places.

Flavoring agents

Flavoring agents are zero-calorie and sugar-free sweeteners that give toothpaste a fun and pleasant flavor. Popular flavors are spearmint, peppermint, and cinnamon. Many natural brands have gotten creative with natural flavors such as Meyer lemon, Himalayan salt, lavender, and activated charcoal. Flavors for children come in bubble gum, grape, and watermelon.

Humectants

Humectants help reduce water loss in toothpaste. Glycerol, propylene glycol, and sorbitol are examples of humectants. Humectants are moisturizing agents used in lotions, conditioners, and other skin and beauty products.

Thickening agents work as stabilizers. Xanthan gum, cellulose, guar gum, and carrageenan are common thickening agents used to bind toothpaste to give it that signature creamy texture. Toothpaste with xanthan gum is a safe alternative for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide are active ingredients used in teeth whitening kinds of toothpaste. You'll see peroxide-based ingredients in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and teeth whitening kits.

Other ingredients include calcium phosphate (for remineralization), water, preservatives, sweeteners, and coloring agents.

As you can glean, the expiration date matters since a lot is packed into your toothpaste.

Is it safe to use expired toothpaste?

The short answer is yet. It's not harmful to use expired toothpaste. If you used toothpaste past its expiration date by chance, you're just not getting any oral health benefits.

Fluoride starts to lose its effectiveness leading up to the expiration date. Fluoride is the key ingredient in cavity-fighting and tooth decay-preventing products.

There may still be toothpaste ingredients that are helpful for your teeth, but the main active ingredients will no longer protect your gums, prevent cavities, and protect tooth enamel.

Always check the expiration date on the packaging as a good rule of thumb.

How to tell if your toothpaste has expired

If, for some reason, your toothpaste expiration date isn't visible, here are some ways to tell if it's expired.

Expired toothpaste may be dried out and flakey. If the texture is inconsistent or separated, that's another sign.

Lastly, toss it immediately if there's mold or fungus on your toothpaste. Mold is highly toxic to ingest. The fluoride in the toothpaste will also be less effective after it expires.

Your oral health affects your overall health. If you suspect your toothpaste isn't fresh, toss it and buy a new one.

Ways to keep your toothpaste fresh

Keeping your toothpaste fresh helps avoid a gummy residue, separated ingredients, bacteria growth, and fungi.

Keeping your toothpaste fresh will keep the fluoride active, preserve the taste, and enable the ingredients to protect your teeth.

Here are some ways to keep your toothpaste fresh and expand its shelf life.

Always put the cap back on securely

Putting the cap back on is a simple task that will go a long way.

A cap-less tube of toothpaste is more likely to develop an inconsistent texture and lose its effectiveness. When dust particles get trapped and harden into the toothpaste. Exposed toothpaste may no longer keep teeth healthy if it loses its potency.

Buy toothpaste with an attached cover if you tend to lose the lid.

Keep toothpaste in a cool environment and store it properly

Store your toothpaste in a cool place. A cool environment will ensure your toothpaste stays fresh. High temperatures can cause ingredients to separate.

Storage matters when it comes to your tube of toothpaste.

Store your toothpaste correctly. Instead of leaving your toothpaste on the bathroom sink, store it in a drawer or medicine cabinet. Proper storage will help keep it germ-free and clean of airborne particles.

Keep your teeth healthy

You'll want to practice good oral hygiene aside from using fresh toothpaste with fluoride and other cavity-fighting ingredients.

Always brush your teeth at least twice a day, morning and night. Invest in a gentle soft-bristled toothbrush, floss daily, and use an antimicrobial mouthwash. You'll want to replace your toothbrush every 3 to 6 months. Once the bristles start to fan outwards, it's time for an upgrade.

You'll also want to live a healthy lifestyle and eat a nutritious and balanced diet—habits such as smoking and heavy alcohol consumption wreak havoc on your teeth. One of the leading causes of tooth decay is smoking. Limit your intake of starchy and sugary foods. Sweet and processed foods lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth.

Taking care of your teeth and using unexpired dental care products will keep your smile beautiful. 

Summary

The moral of the story is using expired toothpaste won't hurt you, but it also won't do much for you—expiration dates matter.

If your toothpaste has expired, it's time to buy a new one. Air exposure (due to not putting the cap back on) may cause toothpaste to pass before the expiration date. There are several ingredients in a tube of toothpaste that kill germs and keep your teeth cavity-free.

Poorly storing your toothpaste can also affect the quality. Use your old toothpaste to polish metal or clean gunk off the walls (yep, you can do that!)