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You’ve used toothpaste for most of your life. Walk down the oral health isle of any grocery or drugstore and you’ll find dozens of brands of toothpaste… Crest, AIM, AquaFresh, Colgate, and more are all household names.  But what’s in toothpaste?  Is there a difference between brands?  What about prescription, specialty, and dental toothpastes – what makes them so unique?  Is there one toothpaste that’s better than the rest?  This week’s post should give you a lot of answers and some comfort when it comes to choosing the right toothpaste for you and your family.

Any toothpaste worth its claims will be made from fluoride and an abrasive substance. These two ingredients are bound together with chemical stabilizers, thickening agents, and various flavors.  Fluoride strengthens the enamel which is the protective part of the tooth and the abrasives remove plaque. The purpose of the abrasive is to break up particles on your teeth, but too much of an abrasive can damage the enamel and expose much softer dentine, so manufacturers limit the abrasive ingredient to ensure that they don’t damage the teeth. 

What about specialized toothpastes? Is a whitening toothpaste really that much better than a normal toothpaste?

The only way to whiten a tooth is with a bleaching agent. If you own a whitening toothpaste, go pick up the tube and see if your preferred brand is made with a bleaching agent. To save you the trouble, it’s almost guaranteed to not have one. You have to read and understand the fine print of toothpaste marketing. When your teeth get whiter, it’s generally not because of the brand of toothpaste, but because of your thorough and regular brushing habits.

Is there any merit to toothpaste products designed for sensitive teeth?

As a matter of fact, there is. When the enamel on a tooth is damaged or a gumline is exposed, brushing teeth can be painful. Why? Nerves end in the dentine. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth has a chemical in it that clogs up the “tunnels” in your teeth that lead to nerves. In short, it is a type of pain reliever but it does not address the underlying condition. If you have sensitive teeth, use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth.  But take the extra step and see your dentist to learn why you have the pain in the first place.

What about those that protect your enamel?

One of the biggest shocks to our patients is when we talk with them about toothpaste that claims to protects enamel. If you have the time, look at the ingredients of toothpastes that claim to protect enamel. You will find that the amount of fluoride, which is the ingredient used to protect tooth enamel, is probably identical across the board. This is a classic case of creative marketing. Regularly brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste is the best thing you can do to protect tooth enamel. The brand does not matter.

What about those natural toothpastes?

The newest player on the toothpaste scene is “natural toothpaste.” We love green; and we are delighted to see a declining number of potentially hazardous chemicals in toothpaste. However, most natural toothpastes lack one very important ingredient: Fluoride. Natural is good, but toothpaste without fluoride is not.  There does not seem to be a way around proper oral care without fluoride.

The next time you are toothpaste shopping, don’t just compare price but compare ingredients. Understand what’s in your toothpaste and then make a determination if the price is worth it. If you find a discount toothpaste, it might be just as good as a high-profile, name-brand product. However, it may be missing a key ingredient.

Read the label, know what you put into your mouth, and brush twice a day. It’s simple, but it works.