Toothpaste: just about everyone buys it, and many of us tend to be brand-loyal. Maybe it’s the same kind we’ve been using since childhood or something that caught our eye in an ad more recently. The range of options these days can be overwhelming, and the number of specialized products seems to have exploded. Touting everything from whitening to gum health, it seems like there’s a special toothpaste for just about everything. But are they worth the extra money? Here are a few guidelines to help you choose.
What Should I Look for In a Basic Toothpaste?
What every dentist really wants is for patients to brush thoroughly and regularly with a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is the most important ingredient in any toothpaste. It helps build stronger teeth and prevents cavities, always our primary goal in daily oral hygiene.
Look for the American Dental Association seal of acceptance when choosing a toothpaste. This means the product has been vetted by the ADA and determined to be safe and effective. All ADA-accepted toothpaste contains fluoride. Most kinds of toothpaste also include inactive ingredients like mild abrasives, flavoring agents (including sugar-free sweeteners), thickening agents and detergents, according to the ADA.
Do I Need a Specialty Toothpaste?
There are special kinds of toothpaste for just about any dental problem or concern. These tend to be a little (or a lot) pricier than your standard tube. But are they really any different? Specialty toothpastes contain extra active ingredients to target specific issues. In many cases, they can help patients achieve their goals. Talk with your dentist about which specialty products are most effective. Here are some of the most common types:
- Whitening: Some whitening toothpastes use bleaching agents like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide to break down stains. Others use abrasives, including hydrated silica, a chemical found in quartz stones, to remove stains.
- Sensitivity: Patients with sensitivity to hot or cold can often get relief with a specially formulated toothpaste. One common ingredient is stannous fluoride, which blocks off tiny tubes in the teeth and keeps liquid from coming into contact with pain receptors.
- Tartar control: Tartar is the mineral build-up created by hardened plaque. Tartar-control toothpaste uses a chemical called sodium pyrophosphate to prevent minerals like calcium from accumulating on the teeth. Just remember, once tartar builds up, even a specialized toothpaste won’t remove it– you’ll need to get a professional cleaning.
- Gum health/reducing gingivitis: Stannous fluoride has antimicrobial properties that help kill bacteria in the mouth and promote gum health. It’s often used in anti-gingivitis products.
- Preventing bad breath: stannous fluoride and other chemicals can also kill the germs that cause halitosis (AKA bad breath). Antimicrobial mouth rinses can also help in this area.
Are Specialty Toothpastes Worth the Price?
Specialty toothpastes do offer different active ingredients, so it’s often worth paying a little more if you have a specific issue you’re looking to tackle. For example, some of the pricier whitening products include specially formulated silica compounds designed to remove stains. There’s usually a wide range of prices within each category, so most patients can find something that works for them, within their budget. Talk with your dentist about recommendations for meeting your needs.
What Toothpaste is Best for Sensitive Teeth?
For sensitivity issues, we tend to steer patients toward trusted ADA-accepted brands like Colgate Sensitive and Sensodyne. If you have questions about a specific product, ask your dentist.
What Toothpaste is Best for Whitening?
You can spend anywhere from $5 to $30 more for a whitening toothpaste. One plus is that ADA-approved whitening toothpastes, including Colgate Optic White and Tom’s of Maine Simply White, tend to be on the lower end of the cost scale.
We’ve had some questions about the trend in charcoal toothpastes, which use activated charcoal as a whitening agent. The verdict is still out on the effectiveness of these products. But keep in mind: they are not ADA-accepted and many don’t contain fluoride.
Toothpaste and Beyond for Oral Health
We’re happy to talk with you about finding a toothpaste that meets your needs, including specialty toothpastes for whitening, sensitivity and gum health. But for most patients, finding an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste is all it takes. Try to pick one you like that doesn’t make brushing your teeth a chore. And remember, whatever brand or specialty you choose, there are several other essential components to white teeth and overall oral health:
- Brushing regularly and thoroughly
- Flossing daily
- Proper nutrition and limiting sugar
- Drinking coffee, wine and soda in moderation for whiter teeth
- Regular check-ups at your dentist’s office
Let’s talk toothpaste and how to get the most out of your favorite at your next visit.