Yes, you have lived to read an actual article on toothpaste!
In the United States, consumers spend about $1.8 billion per year on toothpaste. Compare this to the $775 million spent on toothbrushes, and this puts toothpaste as one of your biggest investments when it comes to your dental hygiene.
Once you have rolled up that tube of toothpaste into a tight spiral and exerted all the force your hands can muster to squeeze out the last gob, the time has come to go to the grocery store for more.
Here is where the toothpaste decision becomes overwhelming. When you roll your cart down that aisle, you are presented with a mass selection of flavors and incredible promises about the blinding whiteness your teeth will have by using [insert brand]'s toothpaste. Each box boasts that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend you use their improved formula, but does the toothpaste you use actually matter?
The short answer: Yes...
What you need in your toothpaste
Safety -- The most important thing to look for in your toothpaste is that the product is accepted by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA seal indicates that an independent review board of scientific experts evaluated and approved the toothpaste for safety and effectiveness.
Taste -- Do you like the taste of your toothpaste? With all of the different flavors out there, make sure you like the taste of the toothpaste. Toothpastes contain sweeteners, like saccharin, to improve taste. The ADA will not accept a toothpaste if it contains decay-causing ingredients, like sugar.
Now that we have the important stuff out of the way, let's sift our way through the features that toothpaste marketers work so hard to show you.
6 toothpaste features and what they are designed to accomplish
- Anti-decay toothpaste is the most basic of the toothpastes, and fluoride is the ingredient responsible for preventing tooth decay. All toothpastes that have earned the ADA seal contain fluoride. For most people, a basic anti-decay toothpaste with the ADA seal is perfectly adequate to maintain great teeth.
- Tartar control toothpastes are designed to prevent plaque from hardening into tartar. The ingredients that help prevent tartar buildup include pyrophosphates and zinc citrate. If your teeth are more prone to tartar buildup, brush twice a day, and ask your dentist if tartar control toothpaste is right for you.
- Desensitizing toothpastes work in two different ways. Historically, potassium acts as the active ingredient working to interrupt the pain response in teeth. A newer twist in desensitizing toothpastes uses Arginine and Calcium to remineralize teeth and fill in the pores of the teeth. Desensitizing toothpastes are typically a bit more expensive. It is important to discuss tooth sensitivity with your dentist and follow his or her recommendations on how to help reduce your tooth sensitivity.
- Whitening is among the most common features highlighted on toothpaste boxes. Who doesn't want pearly whites? But whitening toothpastes also pose a threat to your teeth. Whitening toothpastes use abrasive particles or chemicals that whiten teeth either by polishing the teeth or binding to surface stains, such as those caused by coffee or smoking, and pulling them off the tooth. Whitening toothpastes can't change the natural color of your teeth. Also, they can't lighten a stain deeper than the tooth's surface.
The abrasives and chemicals used in whitening toothpastes can potentially do more harm than good by wearing down the enamel and causing your teeth to become sensitive, prompting a switch to the more expensive desensitizing toothpastes mentioned earlier. Avoid whitening toothpaste if you have sensitive teeth, and consult with your dentist about the benefits and risks associated with whitening toothpaste. Toothpastes have a Relative Dentin Abrasion (RDA) Value to help determine how abrasive the toothpaste is to your enamel. This chart shows common toothpastes and their RDA Value.
- Smokers' toothpaste acts in a similar fashion to whitening toothpaste, using abrasives to remove the stains caused by the tar deposits in smoke. Over time, more abrasive toothpaste and vigorous brushing may damage the enamel, so be sure to brush gently.
- Children's toothpaste is flavored more to the tastes of children, with sweeter flavors like bubblegum. Children's toothpaste has a lower concentration of fluoride, and the ADA recommends that "children use a smear of toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) from the time the first tooth erupts until 3 years." Younger children are more likely to swallow their toothpaste rather than spit it out. Children should avoid ingesting the higher concentrations of fluoride like that found in toothpastes. Teach your children early to spit the toothpaste out and rinse their mouths after brushing.
Most people will get the care they need from an anti-decay toothpaste. If you are not sure if the other features of different toothpastes are right for you, the best thing to do is to discuss your options with your dentist during your semiannual checkups. Your dentist is trained to diagnose the status of your teeth and the steps necessary to maintain a healthy dental regimen.
You made it
Congratulations! You made it through a riveting article on toothpaste and hopefully it helps as you look for the best toothpaste for you then next time you're in the grocery store.
For more information on how to keep your teeth strong and your mouth healthy, check out our Dental Hygiene Tips and Tricks.