Choosing The Right Toothpaste (And Recognizing The Wrong Ones)

Dentists know that toothpastes are not created equally; what manufacturers claim is for the best may do as much harm as goodSo you chose the fluoridated cavity-control whitening toothpaste that the manufacturer guarantees will re-grow tooth enamel and nine out of ten dentists recommend – possibly, because it had the longest label description.

It still may not necessarily be the product that best protects your teeth over the long haul.

Carefully consider exactly what your family needs, be that a brand formulated for children and adults with sensitive teeth and gums, a whitening formula, or a gentle and appealing flavor that caters to children. When shopping for a toothpaste that keeps your mouth and family’s as healthy as possible for years to come, always first seek out an American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval indicating that it meets or surpasses standards for safety and effectiveness scrutinized by world-renowned scientific experts.

Once you get past that step of addressing your family’s general needs, there are several markers to always identify – some that have a strong possibility of harming your family’s teeth at least as much as it helps them, at least one that is known to be a toxic risk, and one definitive ingredient that every legitimately ADA-approved formula contains.

  • NO IMITATORS

Yes, be wary of “imitation” toothpaste.

Seem like the last thing on Earth someone would bother counterfeiting? Perhaps, but there are actually shady operations around the world that specialize in cheap, poorly formulated toothpastes. A 2007 investigation into certain toothpastes imported from overseas found that the product contained diethylene glycol, a compound known to cause potentially fatal renal and neurological toxicity.

  • A WARNING ABOUT WHITENERS

Whitening toothpastes can generally be regarded as healthy choices. The magnitude of results that any whitening toothpaste can achieve has been tragically overstated by manufacturers – no toothpaste whitens teeth as thoroughly as a clinical treatment, due to the diminished concentration and potency of its ingredients – but for the most part, they are harmless.

That being said, we would advise seeking out a product with minimal reliance upon abrasive crystals. Most whitening toothpastes have been formulated with particles or chemicals that have proven effective at scrubbing away tough stains and plaque instead of bleach. These can sometimes end up digging into sensitive teeth and gums, harming enamel and creating some discomfort, but can be mitigated in some brands by potassium nitrate or strontium chloride in brands that cater to sensitive mouths.

  • WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY DO?

For all the buzzwords commonly employed to sell toothpaste, who really stops to think about what they actually mean? Well, just for the sake of clarity, why not consider a few recognizable claims?

Tartar-control toothpastes almost universally contain a significant concentration of fluoride. That primary active ingredient attacks the hardened form of plaque known as “tartar,” which is a major cause of gum disease, with help from chemical compounds such as pyrophosphates and zinc citrate and occasionally the antibiotic triclosan.

Sensitive-teeth formulas protect mouths that hot or cold temperatures and other elements routinely and easily irritate. After up to four weeks of regular use, the typically added potassium nitrate and strontium chloride compounds close off pathways to vulnerable nerves inside the teeth.

Per WebMD, here’s a reference guide to the ingredients that nearly every toothpaste contains and what it does:

  • Abrasive agents. Scratchy materials, including calcium carbonate and silicates, help remove food, bacteria, and some stains from your teeth.
  • Flavoring. Artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, are often added to toothpaste to make them taste better. While many people equate the flavor of toothpaste with mint, toothpaste is available in a variety of flavors, including cinnamon, lemon-lime, and even bubblegum (for kids — or kids at heart).
  • Humectants for moisture retention. Paste and gel formulations often contain substances like glycerol to prevent the toothpaste from drying out.
  • Thickeners. Agents that add thickness to the toothpaste, including gums and gooey molecules found in some seaweeds, help achieve and maintain proper toothpaste texture.
  • Detergents. Those suds you see when you brush your teeth are from detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate.

In the end, there’s really one key ingredient to any toothpaste worth your dollar….

  • THE FLUORIDE FACTOR

This is the all important one – and it’s in nearly every brand on the market.

When this naturally occurring mineral became a mainstay in nearly all commercial toothpastes over 50 years ago, it diminished average rates of tooth decay and cavities drastically. Even in geographic areas known to have high fluoride concentrations in water supplies, fluoride toothpastes have been shown to dramatically increase volumes of the mineral in teeth.

Its first and foremost benefit is to shield your teeth against the acid released as your mouth’s native bacteria feast on sugars and starches and enter through food and drink. Its first line of defense is to naturally strengthen tooth enamel and fortifies it against further acid damage. Even if acids gain a foothold, its tendency to remineralize decaying enamel can reverse early-stage erosion.

As long as your toothpaste contains this miracle mineral in high concentrations with the ADA’s approval, your teeth should be well-protected.

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