What Toothpaste Should I Use?
Welcome to our first blog!
Why did I start out with this topic? Simple answer: this is probably the most frequently asked question we get in our office. And I completely understand why! Even as a dentist, I sometimes feel overwhelmed while walking down the drugstore aisle dedicated entirely to toothpastes. Wouldn't it be nice if there was one blanket answer for everyone? Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn't :-( By asking a few key questions though, we can narrow down the seemingly overwhelming number of available options and come up with a great toothpaste that will serve your specific needs.
The first and most important thing to look for is a fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride combines with the calcium and phosphate found naturally in saliva to harden your enamel (the protective outer layer of your teeth). This hardened enamel is more resistant to the acids and sugars that can cause cavities. Fluoride in toothpaste comes in the form of sodium fluoride and stannous fluoride. Look for either of these ingredients under the "active ingredient" section of your toothpaste. If your current toothpaste does not have either of these, toss it out!
Now that we have the most important topic covered, let's get into some specifics:
Question 1: Do you experience generalized mild sensitivity to cold, sweets, or hot?
If you answered yes to this question, you will want to look for a toothpaste with potassium nitrate OR stannous fluoride. Again, these ingredients will be listed under the active ingredient list. Sensodyne is probably the most widely recognized name brand of toothpastes aimed at reducing sensitivity, but there are a number of others on the market. The trick with these anti-sensitivity pastes is using them consistently and exclusively for at least two weeks to achieve the full effects. If you are switching between this and another (non-anti-sensitivity) toothpaste, you are not getting the full benefits.
Question(s) 2: Do you drink a lot of coffee, tea, red wine? Are you satisfied with the color of your teeth?
If you would like a brighter, whiter smile, a whitening toothpaste could help you achieve that. Most whitening toothpastes work by containing abrasive particles that work to scrub the outer layer of the teeth and remove stains that come from food, drinks, and habits like smoking. Whitening toothpastes will not remove discoloration due to internal staining (i.e. aging, trauma to a tooth, discoloration from antibiotic use in childhood, etc). One thing to be aware of is that some of these pastes are overly abrasive and can thin out your enamel if used over long periods of time. I also caution against unregulated products such as some of the "charcoal powders and pastes" that are trendy right now. The FDA has not tested these products for safety or efficacy and they do not contain fluoride.
Question 3: Have you been told you have gingivitis or periodontal (gum) disease?
If you have periodontal disease or gingivitis (the first stage of the disease), consider looking for a toothpaste that contains stannous fluoride. Not only does this type of fluoride help prevent cavities, as discussed earlier, but it also helps fight off the bacteria that cause gum disease. Development of this condition is often painless, so be sure to tell your hygienist or dentist if you experience red, puffy, or bleeding gums. Stannous fluoride will not cure this disease but it can help slow the progression and prevent recurrence after treatment by a professional.
Question 4: Are there flavors that you like or dislike?
If you are overly sensitive to strong mint or cinnamon flavors (the most common flavors for "adult" pastes), there is nothing wrong with choosing a mild mint flavor or even a fruit or bubblegum flavor. Pastes that come in these flavors are often marketed as a children's toothpaste, but the active ingredients are exactly the same and provide the same benefits as a more traditional "adult" toothpaste!
Your dentist and hygienist are the best resources to help guide you in choosing toothpastes based on your specific needs. Remember that old saying "There is no such thing as a stupid question"? Well, it's true! We love when our patients ask us questions; it means that they value their oral health! By addressing a few specific factors, I hope this blog helps to take some of the guesswork out of choosing a toothpaste. Keep calm and brush on!