Does the toothpaste aisle in your supermarket seem daunting to you? Not only are numerous brands available, but toothpaste (known in the dental profession as dentifrices) is formulated to serve a wide variety of needs. Some promote their whitening ability, others are intended to prevent tartar build-up, and so on. But which type is right for you? We’ll cut to the chase and advise that you ask your dentist, who is familiar with your oral health history and specific issues that can make your teeth and gums more susceptible to decay or periodontal disease. Your dentist will be able to recommend the best toothpaste type for your particular situation.
However, if we left it there, this would be the shortest blog post in history! Your dentist should be the one to steer you in the right direction, but as an informed consumer, it’s to your advantage to know about the different types of toothpaste and what they do. You may be surprised to learn that a toothpaste formulated to help in one area may cause problems in another! For example, an article for Dental Choice points out that using a whitening toothpaste if you have sensitive teeth can increase sensitivity because of the stronger ingredients used to lighten stains.
Before we look at the main categories of toothpastes for specialized needs, make sure that the toothpaste you choose has the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This ensures that it has been tested and ensured by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, which means the claims are confirmed and the ingredients are safe and effective.
Fluoride Toothpaste – Popular with Dentists and Patients for Cavity Prevention
Toothpastes containing fluoride are frequently recommended by dentists for protection against tooth decay. Fluoride is a natural mineral that’s used in most toothpaste brands to help harden tooth enamel, thereby strengthening teeth. Although tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body – harder even than bones – steady exposure to foods and beverages with a high sugar content causes bacteria to produce acids that slowly eat away at tooth enamel, making your teeth more susceptible to cavities. Toothpastes that contain fluoride help in enamel remineralization to reverse this effect.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most toothpaste sold in the United States contains fluoride in the form of sodium fluoride or monofluorophosphate, most commonly at a level of 1,000 to 1,100 mg/L (about 1.3 mg in a quarter teaspoon, a typical amount of toothpaste used for one brushing).
Why You May Need Prescription Fluoride Toothpaste
Your dentist may recommend a fluoride toothpaste that’s available by prescription only. Prescription fluoride toothpaste contains a higher concentration of fluoride (5000 parts per million), which is the maximum strength. It’s typically prescribed for patients whose teeth are especially susceptible to cavities – as in the case of weak enamel due to being prescribed tetracycline in childhood – or after periodontal surgery that exposes the roots of the teeth.
Prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste is beneficial and safe when used as directed. A prescription is required to prevent accidental ingestion by children – as well as indiscriminate use by adults, which can lead to a condition called fluorosis, characterized by staining, pitting and/or surface irregularities of tooth enamel. So if your enamel is already strong, using a toothpaste containing a higher amount of fluoride won’t make your teeth even stronger – it could cause issues, which is why it’s sold by prescription only instead of over-the-counter.
Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth – a Common Condition
If you watch TV for any length of time, you’ll see commercials promoting toothpaste that relieves tooth sensitivity. While some of these ads seem somewhat overly dramatic, sensitivity to hot or cold drinks and food can negatively impact your enjoyment of meals, snacks, and beverages. After all, you want to savor your cup of coffee, not dread the feeling of your teeth figuratively screaming in pain! Symptoms of sensitive teeth can range from a mild twinge to considerable discomfort. Pain can come and go and may be worse on some occasions than others.
According to Mayo Clinic, sensitive teeth are typically the result of worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. “Sometimes, however, tooth discomfort is caused by other factors, such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, a worn filling, or gum disease.” So while TV commercials portray sensitive teeth as a common condition, you need to consult with your dentist to learn if a serious condition is causing sensitivity, rather than assuming the right toothpaste will take care of it. If your dentist rules out a major issue, a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth can relieve discomfort when used twice daily. Use on a regular basis for at least one month to start experiencing results.
Benefits of Tartar Control Toothpaste
Tartar (calculus) is bacterial plaque that has hardened. Once tartar has formed, the only way to remove it is to visit your dental hygienist. Tartar control toothpastes include tartar-fighting ingredients such as zinc citrate or pyrophosphates that prevent plaque from hardening. Toothpastes containing multiple anti-plaque agents have been proven to be even more effective than those with only one plaque fighter.
Regular brushing and flossing – as well as cleanings during your twice-yearly dental examinations – will prevent a buildup of tartar that can lead to periodontal disease. Our blog post – “What is Periodontal Gum Disease?” – covers this topic in detail.
What You Need to Know About Whitening Toothpastes
Everyone wants a bright, white smile! Tooth whitening toothpastes seem to offer a fast road to success, but it’s important to know just what can be achieved. Writing for Mayo Clinic, Thomas J. Salinas, D.D.S., provides the following observations:
“Whitening toothpaste can appear to whiten teeth slightly by removing surface stains, such as those caused by drinking coffee or smoking. However, whitening toothpastes can’t change the natural color of your teeth or lighten a stain that goes deeper than a tooth’s surface. To remove surface stains, whitening toothpaste typically includes special abrasives that gently polish the teeth, and peroxide or other chemicals that help break down or dissolve stains.
“Some whitening toothpastes contain the chemical blue covarine, which adheres to the surface of the teeth and creates an optical illusion that can make teeth appear less yellow. When used twice a day, whitening toothpaste can take from two to six weeks to make teeth appear whiter. Whitening toothpastes that contain blue covarine can have an immediate effect. Although whitening toothpastes are typically designed to maximize cleaning and minimize wear on tooth enamel, be careful to follow manufacturer recommendations.”
As mentioned earlier, whitening toothpaste can increase the sensitivity of sensitive teeth. There are toothpastes formulated for sensitive teeth that promote whitening by natural ingredients, such as charcoal derived from coconuts. This could be a solution to discuss with your dentist.
Whitening toothpastes are effective for the circumstances covered above, but those who have deeper stains should consult their dentist about in-office or take-home professional whitening procedures. NK Family Dental is proud to offer Zoom and Opalescence teeth whitening treatments. Each of these excellent, proven treatments is administered by different means. We will recommend the treatment best suited to your situation and aesthetic goals based upon your consultation.
The Take-Home Message
There’s a wide array of toothpastes on store shelves, each offering different benefits. To make matters more confusing, each brand has various varieties, based upon the benefit it’s formulated to deliver. Rather than feeling you have to go it alone in making this important decision, talk to your trusted partner in oral health – your dentist!
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based upon your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.