Sunday, December 07, 2014

Is That Salt in Your Teeth?

Dear Korean,

My friend recently came back to New York after living in Korea for a year. She now swears by bamboo salt toothpaste. She says that bamboo salt is commonly used in Korean medicine and is much healthier that anything available in the US. What exactly is bamboo salt? 

Kristin K.

Short answer first: bamboo salt, called juk-yeom [죽염] in Korea, is a type of basked salt. One can manufacture bamboo salt by packing salt into a bamboo tube, and baking the tube in an oven multiple times. 

Bamboo salt baking

So that is the salt part. But how do we go from salt to toothpaste?

Before toothpaste became common in Korea, Koreans used to brush teeth with either salt or salt water. This worked just fine, as salt is a natural disinfectant. (In fact, brushing with salt may promote gum health.) When TK was younger, public baths in Korea would commonly place a large bowl salt, as older folks preferred using salt to brush their teeth.

Seizing upon this opportunity, Korea's toothpaste makers came up with various types of toothpaste based on bamboo salt. Although Koreans were certainly transitioning to toothpastes, the idea of brushing teeth with salt was still in people's mind. And not just any salt--salt baked nine times in a bamboo tube! Sure it had to be healthier, right?

Advertisement for a bamboo salt toothpaste

Makers of the bamboo salt toothpaste love claiming that their product prevents gum disease, and is a healthier alternative to other toothpaste. But much to TKParents' dismay, TK is not a dentist, so he is in no position to say if the bamboo salt toothpaste is actually healthier. He did use this type of product for about a decade, with no result that was significantly more positive or more negative than the one you may expect from an ordinary toothpaste, so there is that.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I recall it having a slight salty aftertaste, something I got used to and enjoyed compared to the minty/sweet/disinfecting aftertaste of other toothpastes.

  2. I buy a few tubes of this every time I visit South Korea. I rotate between this and Tom's of Maine. I guess they both have a "novelty" factor, i.e., appear organic, but I like them because they don't have an overpowering minty fresh taste and I recognize most of the ingredients on the labels.

  3. Do these Korean commercial toothpastes also contain fluoride? I am also not a dentist, but I can imagine the salt scrubbing away plaque and food residues, contributing to a hostile environment for mouth bacteria, helping with any cuts in the gums, and if the salt is rough even scouring the enamel a little to whiten the teeth. However, fluoride is the only substance that bonds with the enamel to prevent it from eroding away.

    1. Fluoride is bad for your teeth just like milk is bad for your bones. It's all about making money, and usin traditional methods like salt toothpaste are better

    2. NDog is correct; fluoride is bad for your ... whole body, not just teeth. When choosing a toothpaste or drinking water, make sure fluoride is not present.
      Also, raw unprocessed milk is BETTER for your body than any pasteurized products. Although no milk at all is the best.

  4. Brushing teeth with salt will cut the gums and rub away the outer layer of the tooth because it is so abrasive. Baking soda is less abrasive, although it may irritate gum in some cases.
    The healthiest way to brush your teeth is to do oil pulling with olive or virgin coconut oil plus not eating anything bad: sweet, acidic and starchy foods as well as vegetable oils. There is nothing healthier than the right diet.

    It is impossible to determine how healthy this toothpaste is since we do not know all the ingredients that go into this product. The post sounds more like an advertisement rather than a detailed analysis.

    If this toothpaste is popular with Koreans, there could be different reasons for it: it might have a pleasant taste or a great feel.


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