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The use of DIY remedies has become common practice in oral healthcare, but some measures may have risks. Consumer use of sodium bicarbonate – or baking soda – usually stems from the product’s qualities as a deodorising, degreasing and cleaning agent. According to one case study, misuse of the product could spell trouble.
In 2020, the journal BMC Nephrology presented the case of an 80-year-old woman who developed a toxic reaction after using toothpaste with baking soda.
The patient had a history of his blood pressure leading to chronic kidney disease, an elevated blood lipid profile, acid reflux and atrial fibrillation.
Upon questioning her use of baking soda, the patient’s daughter reported that her mother had been brushing her teeth with baking soda at least three times a day for the past six months.
“The patient reported that her friend recommended it for her to improve her teeth hygiene,” states the report.
This led doctors to believe that the patient’s use of baking soda as a toothpaste caused her chronic metabolic alkalosis and hypokalaemia.
Several health bodies suggest baking soda has properties which have proven useful in removing stains from teeth.
Some research indicates it may even be effective in fighting the bacteria responsible for the formation of plaque, as well as bad breath.
The practice of tooth brushing with baking soda may lead to the ingestion of the substance, however.
The authors of the report said: “Sodium bicarbonate in the form of baking soda is widely used as a home remedy and as an additive for personal and household cleaning products.
“Its toxicity has previously been reported following oral infection in the setting of dyspepsia.
“However, its use as a non-ingested agent like a toothpaste additive has not been reported as a potential cause of toxicity.”
The most common cause of baking soda toxicity involves its overuse as an antacid – a medicine to relieve indigestion and heartburn.
Three days after discontinuing the practice, laboratory test results showed significant improvements in the patient’s potassium and serum bicarbonate levels.
What are hypokalaemia and metabolic alkalosis?
The journal of Medical Toxicology, states: “Hypokalaemia is the most common serious issue of sodium bicarbonate intoxication, and it may worsen alkalosis.”
The condition is diagnosed when there are suboptimal levels of potassium in the bloodstream, the nutrient responsible for carrying electrical cells in your body.
Potassium is pivotal for the functioning of various muscle and nerve cells, particularly those in the heart.
“A very low potassium level can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention,” cautions the Mayo Clinic.
In metabolic alkalis, Cleveland Clinic explains that there is an “excess of bicarbonate in the body fluids”.
“Metabolic alkalosis due to excessive intake of bicarbonate is not usually seen because the kidney responds to a high bicarbonate load by increasing bicarbonate excretion,” explains the Journal of Medical Toxicology.
When bicarbonate excretion is impaired, however, it may accumulate in the body and cause toxic reactions such as alkalosis.
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