Dr Ian Sweeney
Choosing the right toothpaste can be an overwhelming decision. Surrounded by all of the marketing hype and plethora of options it is no wonder dentists are often asked, “which toothpaste should I use?” Well, let’s break it down.
Firstly, why do we use toothpastes? We use toothpastes to help clean teeth and gums, strengthen teeth, reduce plaque and bacteria, reduce bad breath, reduce sensitivity and whiten teeth. Not every toothpaste will do all of these things, so then the decisions begin. Generally speaking, all toothpastes will clean teeth. They all contain some form of detergent or foaming agents, mild abrasives and solvents to keep teeth feeling soft and smooth. Some stain removal toothpastes may contain an abrasive agent designed to remove stains, however may also be more damaging to your teeth.
Toothpastes strengthen teeth as the fluoride they contain is absorbed into the outer layer of the tooth enamel, strengthening it against the acidic attack from bacteria. Fluoride has proven effective in reducing decay in all age groups. Children less than two should use a smear of low fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) and children between three and six years should use a small pea size amount, noting that excessive fluoride can have damaging effects on developing enamel, so moderation is the key. Adults with high rates of decay or reduced salivary flow should choose a higher concentration fluoride toothpaste and your dentist can recommend the most appropriate product for you.
Toothpastes designed to reduce sensitivity work in a number of different ways. Some work on exposed nerve tissue within the root of the tooth, while others work by occluding the microscopic porosities in the root surfaces which lead to the nerve endings. Sensitivity may also be the first sign of a bigger problem so it would be wise to consult with your dentist as to the actual cause. Tartar Control toothpastes contain ingredients that help remove the hard build up that forms on teeth. It is important to note that these toothpastes only remove the build up above the gum line, and only a dentist can effectively remove all tartar that builds up below the gum line. Some anti calculus ingredients have been shown to increase tooth sensitivity in predisposed patients.
Whitening toothpastes may contain a more abrasive agent or they may contain a peroxide to help remove intrinsic stains. Unfortunately, the low dose of peroxide coupled with the short exposure time of the brushing may have little effect in achieving truly white teeth. Natural or Herbal toothpastes are also popular these days. Just remember that if the toothpaste does not contain fluoride, the benefits achieved by fluoride strengthening the outer enamel surface may be lost.
Choosing the correct toothpaste can be a difficult decision. Every mouth is different and has different needs. If you have a particular problem, sensitivity, irritation or question relating to a toothpaste for you, you child or someone you care for, ask your dentist for their recommendation.