We’ve all done it: we forgot about a tube of toothpaste under our bathroom sink, let it sit in a drawer somewhere, or even kept a tiny tube of toothpaste in our gym bag just in case. We ask ourselves the same question: Does toothpaste expire? Does it still work? Will it hurt me if I use it?
Truthfully, most of us don’t remember where or when we purchased that bottle of toothpaste, and we are even less likely to remember when we opened it.
While your paste probably isn’t going to harm you if you use it, toothpaste does expire, and there are some benefits you may be losing if you’re brushing your pearly whites with old paste.
What is Toothpaste’s Shelf Life?
So, the million-dollar question: What is a toothpaste’s real shelf life?
Under typical conditions, toothpaste has a shelf life of about two years, depending on whether or not it contains fluoride or other active ingredients. After this time, the toothpaste may change colors, change flavors, or not be as effective.
All toothpastes are slightly different -- even for the same brand as formulas change over time.
Why Does Toothpaste Expire?
Like almost everything else, toothpaste expires because it has active ingredients that cannot be preserved forever. The effectiveness of the ingredients in your toothpaste will determine the shelf-life, which is why most toothpastes will have similar, but slightly different, expiration periods.
Almost all toothpastes will include fluoride, which is an ingredient that will start to break down over time, decreasing its effectiveness. This is the ingredient most likely to dictate when your toothpaste expires, even though you can’t really see it.
Of course, there are many other ingredients that have shelf lives as well. Some of the other active ingredients include abrasives, flavoring or sweetening ingredients, something to moisturize, and a detergent.
It really depends on the ingredients chosen whether or not they will expire and eventually start to decrease in effectiveness.
Why Does Toothpaste Go Bad?
Toothpaste can go bad, but not necessarily expire, for a few other reasons as well:
Bacteria can develop if the toothpaste hasn’t been capped properly.
If the tube is left open in a cabinet that contains other products, that can change the flavor.
The ingredients can separate over time.
If the tube is exposed to extreme changes in temperature or continual extreme heat or cold, the paste can go bad.
If water somehow gets into the toothpaste, this can affect its effectiveness.
Bacteria can spread from your toothbrush to the toothpaste.
There are many other reasons why your toothpaste could go bad – sometimes, you may even just get a bad tube or the tube gets punctured while you are storing it. Whatever the reason, you don’t want to use toothpaste that you suspect has gone bad.
Luckily, it’s usually not an overly expensive self-care product, so replacing a tube that you suspect has gone bad is always the better choice.
Fluoride is the Main Reason Toothpaste Expires
You got it – fluoride is usually the culprit. So, let’s dig a little deeper into why fluoride is the main reason why toothpaste expires.
Since fluoride is an active ingredient in most toothpastes, it is usually the reason why toothpastes expire.
This doesn’t mean that fluoride goes bad or even that it is dangerous for you, it just means that the fluoride starts to degrade and become less effective over time.
Fluoride is what keeps your enamel strong, which is what, in turn, makes your teeth shiny, white, and photo-ready. It is also what keeps your teeth free from cavities. It is important to keep your enamel strong because enamel is something that cannot be added back to your teeth. It’s like ice cream -- once it’s gone, it’s really gone.
All toothpastes need to be printed with an expiration date per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can find this expiration date on the tube somewhere, usually stamped into the tube itself, and sometimes printed in a black ink.
Is It Safe To Use Expired Toothpaste?
So, here’s the scoop for those of you who are deem yourselves adventurous and like to live on the edge by brushing with expired toothpaste.
While it isn’t necessarily going to hurt you to use an expired toothpaste, it also may not help you.
If the sweetener or other active flavoring has turned sour, it may not taste all that great either. Because toothpaste should clean your teeth and prevent cavities, the fresher it is, the better it will be at its job.
Toothpaste that has expired may also be slightly drier and have an inconsistent texture that may make brushing a little difficult or unenjoyable.
Sometimes, the ingredients will begin to separate, causing you to lose some of the much-needed benefits.
In rare cases, toothpaste that has bacteria or fungi growing on it can actually make you sick.
Be sure to look at your toothpaste before you put it in your mouth. While it can be hard to keep your eyes open in the morning, you should at least take a glance at your chosen magic paste for your glowing pearls’ sake.
How Can I Keep My Toothpaste Fresh?
We understand that you want to keep your toothpaste fresh and effective, so here are a few proactive steps you can take.
When storing your toothpaste, keep it in a cool, dark place that isn’t subject to temperature changes.
Keep it in the box until you are ready to use it (if it has a box), and keep the plastic wrap on if there is some.
When you do use the toothpaste, try not to touch the opening with your fingers.
Always use the cap when you are finished, and try to keep the edges clean.
Don’t touch your toothbrush to the opening of the cap.
Store your toothpaste in a cabinet that isn’t open to the air of the bathroom.
Another tip, especially if you have problems with toothpaste going bad: you may want to buy toothpaste that is in a plastic container rather than a tube, and be sure you store it so that there is air on only one side of the tube so that it isn’t spread out. If you have a tube, you can find one of those tube flatteners that ensures no extra air is in the container.
But what do you do if you simply can’t remember when you opened a tube of toothpaste? In order to remember when you opened your toothpaste, so you can track when it expires, we suggest simply adding a note on your phone, getting a white sticker and writing the date you opened it to place on the tube, or simply keeping a list somewhere else. It isn’t a bad idea to do this with your other personal care items either.
Ensuring that you know when you opened the tube will give you the peace of mind of knowing when it's time to give that tube the boot.
What To Do with Your Expired Toothpaste
Let’s face it, we’ve all been taught not to be wasteful. So, nobody wants to throw away something that we paid good money for, but there are actually some things that you can do with your expired toothpaste to make it worth your while.
While it may not work in every instance, you can try using your expired toothpaste to:
- Polish metal that has been tarnished
- Clean your bathroom sink, especially around the drain
- Remove crayon from the walls -- make sure to do a spot check first
- Remove gummy residue from items, including the bottom of an iron
- Buff your fingernails and make then shinier
See, expired toothpaste can still come in handy!
So, in short, yes toothpaste does expire. It isn’t necessarily going to make you extremely sick or have any significant negative impacts, but it isn’t going to help you in your quest to obtain good oral wellness.
When you doubt whether or not your toothpaste is good for you or expired, it is always best to err on the side of caution and assume that it has gone bad.
Buying another tube of toothpaste probably isn’t going to break the bank, but the dental work that comes from not having good enough toothpaste certainly will. So, give your glowing pearly whites the best. Why? Because they deserve it!