Potassium nitrate goes by many a moniker such as saltpeter, Chinese salt, Chinese snow, nitrite and nitrate of potash.
It forms into a powder that it is white and crystal-like. It is mostly spotted on rocks, in caves, soils of tropical zones, lakes and deserts.
Decomposing organic matter is essential while nitrifying potassium salts in the formation of potassium nitrate.
Usually potassium nitrate is extracted from bird droppings and soil by boiling it in water, filtering it, and finally assembling it in crystal form.
Potassium nitrate is a salt of potassium. It is known to occur naturally as a mineral. Its uses are known as a chloride-free fertilizer.
Potassium nitrate is also known to treat asthma. It a crucial component in preservatives used to protect meats and cheese from bacteria.
It uses span agriculture, solar energy and pharmaceutical industries.
Why is potassium nitrate used in toothpaste?
In the pharmaceutical industry, it is used as an ingredient in toothpaste. Potassium nitrate in toothpaste is synonymous with desensitizing toothpaste.
What are sensitive teeth?
To understand how potassium nitrate works, the process of pain and sensitivity within the nerves of teeth should be understood.
Damage to teeth is caused due to erosion from acidic food and drinks. The pulp, dentin, enamel, and cementum make up the four layers of the tooth.
Pulp is the deepest organic layer made up of nerves and blood vessels. Enamel protects the dentin, which in turn is protected by the cementum.
Tooth hypersensitivity happens when there is damage to enamel and cementum, irritating the nerves in the pulp and making teeth vulnerable to hot, cold, acidic, sticky and sugary foods.
Within the nerve cells of the teeth, is a higher amount of potassium ion concentration on the inside and sodium ions higher on the outside.
When sensitivity and pain are experienced, potassium ions shift from the inside to the outside of the cell and vice versa.
What does potassium nitrate do for sensitive teeth?
Potassium nitrate can enter dentin tubes through to the nerves of dental pulp. It then absorbs through the nerves, to increase in strength at the nerve endings, successfully blocking the sensation of pain.
If for e.g. when sensitive teeth are exposed to stimuli (extremely hot or cold or sweets), potassium takes effect immediately to block the pain signal to the brain and calms the nerves for up to 24 hours.
Through regular brushing with a toothpaste containing potassium nitrate, the tubes in the pulp are filled with a sufficient supply; increasing in efficacy to protect the teeth from pain and sensitivity.
.. When combined with fluoride ..
When Sodium fluoride and Potassium nitrate are combined, they work together as a team against tooth decay with symptoms of sensitivity to make teeth stronger and calm the nerves within.
When combined with fluoride as a whitening solution, it provides a pain-free experience.
Many aspects of the whitening process can cause irritation both during the process and later.
When potassium nitrate is used in combination with other contents, its action reflects that of an anesthetic and analgesic to the nerves.
Irritation and sensitivity can persist in the first 2 weeks after a whitening treatment. This sensitivity also can effectively subside almost immediately with products of potassium nitrate.
Many dental companies are using potassium nitrate in whitening products and as a component in bleaching trays.
Studies suggest that potassium nitrate used in both toothpastes and mouthwashes have the positive effects in physical and air-blast sensitivity of teeth.
Is it safe in toothpaste?
Toothpaste containing potassium nitrate is safe to use twice a day on a daily basis for a minimum of two weeks up to six months.
Severe adverse effects of potassium nitrate ingestion are mostly reported with doses above 10g.
Most toothpaste meant to prevent cavities and reduce painful sensitivity of the teeth contains up to 5 % of potassium nitrate.
This amount has known to help in the condition of sensitivity with no adverse side effects reported.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintains a record of chemical compositions of various over-the-counter products and is a means to check safety levels of various ingredients.
The EWG scored potassium nitrate, 1 on a scale from 0 to 10, (10 being highly unsafe and 0-2 being an acceptable low risk range.).
Other desensitizing ingredients like ‘Strontium chloride’ were given a ‘3’ which indicates a moderate risk in using products that contain it; confirming the safety of potassium nitrate and deeming it a suitable option.
The safety of a toothpaste is measured by its abrasive score or capacity. Sensitivity exposes an underlying problem such as hardened tartar, worn out enamel and dentin and gum diseases.
Some toothpaste can further erode enamel, increasing sensitivity.
Potassium nitrate does not have abrasive qualities and only addresses sensitivity issues in the nerves. Its effects are gradual, definitely safe and it is classified worldwide as a ‘safe natural ingredient’.
Ultimately to trust the safety of toothpaste it should carry a seal of approval from the ADA.
The ADA conducts wide-ranging tests to check the safety of dental products. Its checks would determine the source of potassium nitrate, it’s efficacy and safety levels.
Moreover, the Environmental Working Group online is a database to check the safety of ingredients in specific dental products.
Some medical conditions and circumstances may cause reactions to potassium nitrate such as – pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and those planning a pregnancy.
Situations in which prescription medicines, herbal remedies or dietary supplements are used, that might interact with potassium nitrate.
Exiting allergies to certain substances and foods and in the presence of kidney diseases could cause vulnerabilities.
In these cases, a medical practitioner should be informed.
Dental products have come a long way and advanced over time. Thankfully, the addition of potassium nitrate to toothpaste has been a relief in numbing pain and sensitivity.
However, sensitivity is just a symptom of an underlying problem, which must be taken care of. Thus, potassium nitrate in toothpaste as an ingredient is not a cause of concern.
However, individual differences in terms of age, gender, predispositions and health concerns etc. can cause certain reactions.
Use of toothpaste by children in particular should be guided, under the supervision of an adult.