Skip to Content

Can I use toothpaste on Shabbat?

Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, is a day of rest and spiritual nourishment. On this sacred day, work is forbidden as it goes against the spirit of rest. But some activities, like brushing one’s teeth, may seem like “work” but are permitted for health and hygiene. Using toothpaste on Shabbat has been debated by rabbis and scholars over the centuries. In this article, we’ll explore the Jewish laws and customs around using toothpaste and other dental hygiene products on Shabbat.

The Prohibition of “Work” on Shabbat

The Torah commands Jews to refrain from melachah, commonly translated as “work,” on Shabbat. The Torah provides examples of major categories of prohibited work, including plowing, reaping, building, lighting a fire, transferring between domains, and other acts of creation and destruction. Over the centuries, Jewish legal scholars further defined what constitutes “work” through examination of these categories.

In general, acts that involve exertion or that change an object from its natural state are considered “work” and forbidden on Shabbat. Preparing, cooking, writing, carrying outside the home, buying/selling, and other weekday activities do not align with the spirit of rest and are prohibited. However, acts needed for health and hygiene, like washing hands or bathing, do not violate Shabbat despite requiring some exertion.

The Melachah of Memachek

One major category of forbidden work on Shabbat is memachek, meaning “scraping” or “grinding.” The Talmud prohibits any act of grinding spices, grains, or other materials on Shabbat. This would certainly seem to prohibit using toothpaste, which involves grinding up herbs, chemicals, and abrasives into a paste.

However, the exact definition of memachek has been debated. Some say it only applies to grinding items for constructive purposes, like making flour. Others say it applies to any grinding, even for immediate use. But most agree that light grinding for direct personal use, like grinding up spices to flavor food, does not violate Shabbat.

Health and Hygiene Exceptions

Jewish law makes certain exceptions to Shabbat prohibitions for health and hygiene reasons. For example, washing hands, showering, and washing clothes are all permitted on Shabbat despite involving exertion forbidden on other days. Without these exceptions, it would be impossible to maintain cleanliness and dignity throughout the 25-hour Shabbat.

This formed the basis for more lenient rulings on using toothpaste and other dental products on Shabbat. While using toothpaste may involve some light grinding or scraping, maintaining dental and mouth hygiene is essential on Shabbat just like any other day.

The Debate Over Toothpaste

Given the above considerations, halachic authorities have reached different conclusions about whether toothpaste is permitted on Shabbat:

Strict Opinion – Toothpaste is Prohibited

Some rabbis, following the strictest definitions of memachek and other melachot (categories of work), prohibit using toothpaste on Shabbat. They argue that applying toothpaste involves forbidden grinding or scraping of the paste against the teeth and violates the spirit of rest.

Moderate Opinion – Only Non-Abrasive Toothpaste Permitted

Many mainstream poskim (halachic authorities) permit the use of non-abrasive toothpaste without large particles. Since the paste glides smoothly over the teeth, there is no forbidden grinding or scraping. However, abrasive toothpastes violate Shabbat due to the scrubbing action.

Lenient Opinion – All Toothpaste Permitted

Some contemporary poskim are lenient and permit the use of any toothpaste on Shabbat. They argue that applying toothpaste is unlike the constructive, exertive grinding prohibited by the Torah. And maintaining dental hygiene supersedes any rabbinic concerns.

Customs Regarding Toothpaste on Shabbat

While halachic opinions differ, these are some customary practices that have emerged:

  • Squeezing toothpaste directly onto the brush on Shabbat is not permitted, since this involves a constructive act of spreading the paste.
  • Applying toothpaste to the brush before Shabbat avoids this issue.
  • Using toothpaste tubes with pre-squeezed tops can enable squeezing out paste on Shabbat itself.
  • Many use non-gel toothpastes to avoid any scraping concerns.
  • Thoroughly rinsing the mouth after brushing prevents swallowing any paste.
  • Toothpaste without special flavors or whitening properties is preferred.
  • Toothpowder or tablets may be an alternative to pastes.

Permitted Dental Hygiene Acts

While toothpaste is debated, most halachic authorities agree that acts needed for dental hygiene are permitted on Shabbat, including:

  • Brushing teeth (with or without paste)
  • Flossing teeth
  • Using mouthwash
  • Irrigating or cleaning the teeth with dental picks, rubber tip stimulators, or water

As long as these activities do not use prohibited ingredients (like highly flavored mouthwash) and are done gently without excess exertion, they are in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.

Use of Electric Toothbrushes

Electric toothbrushes pose additional halachic issues since they involve electricity. However, many permit their use on Shabbat under certain conditions:

  • The toothbrush must be turned on before Shabbat.
  • It cannot be inserted into a charging base, as this completes an electrical circuit.
  • Turning it off on Shabbat may be prohibited.
  • Some avoid use of toothbrushes with special timers or pressure sensors.

Thus electric toothbrushes already running before Shabbat onset are generally accepted but should not be turned on or off on Shabbat itself.

Children and Those Who Are Ill

When it comes to children or those with special health needs, most rabbis are more lenient about use of toothpaste and other dental hygiene products on Shabbat. Maintaining dental health is especially important for these groups. Parents of young children who cannot brush thoroughly without toothpaste are almost always permitted to use it.

Asking a Rabbi About Special Situations

In certain health situations, like braces, recent dental surgery, or other special needs, a local Orthodox rabbi should be consulted about one’s specific case. Those unable to maintain dental health without toothpaste should seek guidance to find an acceptable solution.

Intention and Spirit

More than legalistic details, Shabbat observance centers on restful intention and experience. While respecting general norms, each Jew should embrace the Shabbat customs that allow them to enter into the sacred spirit of the day. For many, use of toothpaste enables a clean mouth and peaceful Shabbat state of mind.


Shabbat dental hygiene remains a debated topic in Jewish law. While use of toothpaste arguably involves some degree of grinding or scraping, maintaining oral health is an essential exception recognized by most halachic authorities. Common solutions include using non-gel pastes, pre-applying toothpaste before Shabbat, rinsing thoroughly, and preferring mild flavors. Beyond the legal details, intention and experience determine whether Shabbat is properly kept. For many, moderate use of toothpaste enables rather than interferes with their Shabbat rest.