Navigating the toothpaste aisle these days can be a confusing and overwhelming task. There are many different options available in regards to properties and brands. How do you know which is best for you?
Toothpaste is a really important aspect to dental care. It can help keep your teeth nice and clean and healthy, but some can also cause unnecessary damage (yep, they’re not all great for you). To guide you through the confusing waters of choosing toothpaste, Admire Dentistry breaks down some of the qualities that you should absolutely look for in toothpaste and what to avoid.
What is Toothpaste? And What’s in it?
Toothpaste has been around for a long time – since 5000BC, to be exact. The Ancient Egyptians were the first known civilisation to use toothpaste (and even tooth brushes, though later on, around 3500–3000BC) to clean their teeth. These items were used with the same intentions we have today, to keep the teeth and gums clean, to freshen breath, and to whiten teeth. The methodology of making toothpaste, however, was quite different.
Before the fresh and minty modern toothpaste was developed, Ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Chinese societies would use powdered items such as eggshell, bone, charcoal (which, as we know, has made a resurgence) to wash their teeth; these were sometimes mixed with herbs and salts to provide freshness. In our modern history – and up until the 40s in fact – toothpastes contained soap to emulsify the product and turn it from a powder to a paste. Thankfully, we’ve moved on from these barbaric ingredients – well, most of them.
Modern toothpastes are pretty simple in composition; they are made up of two key ingredients, fluoride and a mild abrasive. These are held together by thickeners, sweeteners, and stabilisers. The abrasive is typically made up on calcium carbonate or hydrated silica; this functions to polish your teeth and remove particles of food.
Fluoride has become a widely contested ingredient as of late, with many brands offering a fluoride-free alternative of toothpaste; however, many dentists and health professionals agree that fluoride is a key ingredient for dental health, and in particular, the protection of the enamel and prevention of tooth decay.
In Australia, water fluoridation has reduced tooth decay in children by 26% and in adults by 27%, according to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Fluoride can both reduce the demineralisation (break down) of the enamel, and it can encourage remineralisation (the strengthening) of the enamel. As the enamel serves a very important role of protecting nerves and helping us eat (especially the crunchy and delicious foods we love), many dentists will always back fluoride.
Thankfully, in Queensland, we enjoy water fluoridation and have so for more than 30 years. However, it is still recommended that adults and children use a fluoridated toothpaste to maximise the effects of the naturally-occurring substance.
Brushing your teeth with toothpaste serves a very important purpose and should be done twice a day, morning and night. This is to remove plaque and bacteria that can build up on your teeth and cause things like tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath.
Benefits of Modern Toothpaste
- Helps remove plaque build up (Plaque results in a number of issues so keeping on top of your brushing is the best preventative method – oh, and don’t forget to floss too!)
- Helps kill germs and bacteria that accumulate in our mouths
- Refreshes the breath and makes it pleasant smelling
- Can improve the appearance of stains
- Contains fluoride that protects and strengthens the enamel
- Can improve teeth sensitivity (with a toothpaste specifically designed for this)
What about Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth?
Sensitive teeth toothpaste is another type of toothpaste that can be useful for people who have sensitive teeth. Teeth sensitivity is marked by sharp, short pain that occurs when eating or drinking foods or drinks that are either hot or cold – foods and drinks like ice cream, hot tea, soup, and soft drink are common culprits. This sensitivity is caused by the soft part of the tooth, known as dentine, becoming exposed to harsh temperatures. The dentine contains tiny tubes that lead to the nerve of the tooth, exposing the nerve to high and low temperatures and causing pain. So, how does one develop sensitivity?
Typically, brushing too hard can make your teeth more sensitive, as you are abrading away the enamel and exposing more dentine. This is why dentists discourage toothpastes that are too abrasive (such as whitening toothpastes) and brushes that are too firm (soft is always best!). Other habits that cause or exacerbate sensitivity include grinding teeth and consistently drinking or eating acidic or sugary foods and drinks, and of course, smoking.
Unfortunately, once the enamel has been removed, it’s gone for good; however, toothpastes tailored to sensitive teeth can help reduce pain caused by sensitivity by filling in or creating a barrier over the exposed dentine. Sensitive toothpaste is special because it contains specialised molecules that work to block the little tubules and nerves in teeth so things like ice cream and cold water don’t cause pain. Whilst many kinds of toothpaste on the market might claim to help sensitive teeth, there are only a few brands that have this specialist technology, and Dr Alex can help you find the right one. Ask us which one we recommend during your next visit!
What About Whitening Toothpaste?
We also get lots of questions about whitening toothpaste, and specifically, many wonder – do they really work? Unfortunately, most store-bought whitening toothpastes are very similar to regular toothpaste, but may contain more abrasive agents. These abrasive agents help buff away ‘stains’ on your teeth, but don’t exactly make your teeth whiter than they originally are. So, if your teeth are already their naturally white shade, which may not be as white as you anticipate, then you cannot physically go whiter with a whitening toothpaste alone. Further, these toothpastes can be too harsh for teeth and cause sensitivity, or exacerbate pre-existing sensitivity.
If white teeth are what you are after, it is far better to speak to a dentist about whitening options to see what’s right for you. At Admire Dentistry, we have a few teeth whitening services, including in-chair treatments or take home kits (which are great for people who just want a touch up). For those after a more permanent whitening solution, dental veneers are also an option – we cover these more in a recent article which you can read here.
So, How do I Decide?
With minor variations in actual formulation, you’re safe to pick from any non-whitening formula if you’re after a standard toothpaste and you’re not dealing with sensitivity. Although, aim to pick a toothpaste with a high percentage of fluoride for the ultimate benefits of the ingredient – as an added tip, don’t rinse your toothpaste off with water or mouthwash after you’ve brushed as you’re removing all the fluoride goodness. Rather, spit and let the fluoride sit on your teeth – try to avoid drinking water for about 15–20 minutes afterwards to let it sink in. Most importantly, don’t neglect your dental check-ups! Toothpaste is essential, but it’s not a miracle product. You can still develop cavities, so go for your regular check ups to find and resolve these early.
Have more questions about your dental routine or specific treatments? Speak to one of the highly qualified and experienced dental professionals at Admire Dentistry to talk about your options. If you would like to schedule an appointment you can book online or call us on (07) 3064 1044