Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Choosing the Right Toothpaste

A trip through the toothpaste aisle isn’t the simple journey it used to be. Our parents and grandparents had just a handful of choices – paste or gel; spearmint or peppermint. Today, you’ll find a dizzying array of formulas on the store shelves and it can be confusing to decide what type of toothpaste is best for your family or your particular needs. Some of the newer ones can be helpful for certain minor dental conditions, while others offer little more than empty promises. Here’s a guide to help make that trip down the tooth care aisle a little less intimidating.

Fluoride toothpaste: This is the type we’re most familiar with, but what exactly does a fluoride toothpaste do? It helps remove plaque, which can cause gum disease and tooth decay. It also helps strengthen tooth enamel. Fluoride is the single ingredient oral health professionals agree on is the cornerstone for maintaining healthy teeth at any age.

Tartar control formulas: These are effective at preventing tartar, but they can’t do anything about the tartar build-up already on your teeth. Only a professional cleaning can remove existing tartar. Some of the active ingredients in tartar control toothpastes can cause irritation to your mouth and gums, so if you have any sensitivity it’s best to ask your dentist if the benefits of a tartar control formula outweigh the risk of discomfort each time you brush.

Formulas for sensitive teeth: These can be effective for mild to moderate tooth hypersensitivity, but it could take several weeks of use before you notice any improvement. The active ingredients in this type of toothpaste help to block the porous “tubes” that connect our teeth to the underlying nerves. A sensitive formula is not effective if your tooth pain is a result of cavities or gum disease.

Whitening toothpastes: These formulas tend to be the most over-hyped and a cause of consternation among many dental professionals. According to the American Dental Association, no toothpaste has ever been proven to actually change the color of teeth. While all ADA-approved whitening formulas contain safe levels of hydrogen peroxide, they can be irritating and even damaging to gums. Whitening toothpastes can only help by removing surface stains. To effectively lighten the color of your teeth, it’s best to talk to your dentist about professional in-office or take home whitening treatments.

Enamel-building toothpastes: The enemy of our teeth’s enamel is acid, which is caused by bacteria and certain foods and beverages. Some of the newest toothpaste formulas on the market claim to “build” enamel by protecting against acid erosion. But the key to preventing enamel loss can most likely be found in the toothpaste you’re already using, as long as it contains fluoride. To protect your tooth enamel, it’s also important to limit your intake of acidic beverages, such as sodas and sports drinks. The bottom line is: no toothpaste can actually rebuild enamel, but you can help protect against the acid that eats away at it. Stick with a fluoride formula with gentle abrasives.

Here are a few more important factors to keep in mind when you’re choosing a toothpaste:

  • Always make sure the formula you purchase has been given the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This way you'll know it has been objectively reviewed for safety and effectiveness. 
  • If you have a sensitive mouth or are prone to canker sores, check the ingredient list for sodium lauryl sulfate. SLS can be irritating to some people, and it's best to find a flouride formula that does not contain this foaming agent.
  • Despite what you've seen on those TV commercials, you don't need to squirt a caterpillar-sized amount on your toothbrush - a pea-sized dab will do the trick just fine. Besides saving you a little money, it will cut down on the number of times you have to brave the burgeoning toothpaste aisle!

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