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A Doctor’s Advice: ‘My Gums Are Irritated. Is My Toothpaste to Blame?’

Some ingredients do more harm than good.

The feeling of inflamed, irritated gums is impossible to ignore. It can completely ruin your day if you don’t take care of it — so what should you do? The best route is to schedule an appointment with your dentist so she can examine your teeth and make sure you don’t have a serious condition. But sometimes, the culprit is something you’re putting in your mouth — like your toothpaste.

It’s true; some commercial toothpastes can be very irritating even if you don’t have an allergy, because certain ingredients do more harm than good. Don’t know what to look out for? When a reader wrote in asking for advice on this topic, our expert, Dr. Heather Moday, stepped up to help.

Why Toothpaste Can Lead to Irritated Gums

Q: At my last visit, my dentist said I had more plaque than usual and my gums were irritated. Could my new toothpaste be to blame?

A: It could be. Many toothpastes and oral-care products contain additives to improve the taste and help remove debris, but these ingredients can also dry out oral tissues and disrupt the balance of microbes in the mouth, leading to the symptoms you’re experiencing.

A top culprit is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), an additive that helps loosen food particles but also inhibits saliva production, which can increase plaque growth. For that reason, I suggest using a product without SLS. I also advise avoiding those with aspartame and ethanol, both of which inhibit saliva production. Instead, try a brand with zinc, like SmartMouth Premium Zinc Toothpaste. Research from the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found zinc pastes cleared plaque more effectively than a commercial fluoride paste, fed healthy oral bacteria, and lowered gingivitis risk in study participants.

Extra Tips From FIRST

Toothpaste may also contribute to heartburn. Menthol in mint-flavored pastes may cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, which allows acid or bile to move up the esophagus. Read more about it here.

Don’t want to throw out the toothpaste you already bought? There are plenty of other ways you can use it around the house. Keep it for shining chrome fixtures, repair scratches on tabletops, and more — check out eight other toothpaste hacks here.

Meet our expert.

Heather Moday, MD, is director of the Moday Center in Philadelphia. She is board-certified in allergy and immunology, as well as integrative and holistic medicine. You can follow her on Instagram (@theimmunitymd), where she shares information on health topics. And to ask her a question here, send an email to

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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