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Ask the Dentist: Baking Soda Toothpastes

Expert answers to your questions about the cleaning agents in toothpastes.

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Q: Why is baking soda now in some toothpastes? Does it help fight tartar?

A: Baking soda, an abrasive, helps remove stains and can temporarily lower the mouth's acidity, making it tough on acid-loving, cavity-causing bacteria. But baking soda does not reduce tartar. The only way to remove hardened plaque on teeth is to have a dentist scrape it off. (Tartar-control toothpastes have been found to help break down tartar deposits left on your teeth.)

Baking soda is added to toothpastes because it makes your mouth feel clean. Dentists hope that good feeling motivates people to brush longer and more regularly.

"The type of toothpaste is not that important as long as it contains fluoride -- and you use it," says dentist Gordon Isbell, III, of Gadsden, Alabama.

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