Here's what the experts have to say about the different terms and claims
you might see on toothpaste labels:
- Get a fluoride
toothpaste. Experts say brushing with a toothpaste that contains fluoride
is important for preventing cavities. On the label, this may be called
stannous fluoride, sodium fluoride or monofluoride phosphate (MFP).
This is the ingredient all oral care professionals seem to agree upon
as the basis for using commercial toothpastes. As long as the product
has fluoride, it will help maintain oral health. However, stannous fluoride
can stain teeth.
- Look for the
American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. The ADA awards its seal only after reviewing
the "appropriate clinical and/or laboratory studies and scientific data." Any
toothpaste with the ADA seal has been proven safe and effective for the claims on
its label. Though there is a fee to apply, not all applications are
are mixed on tartar control formulas. The active tartar-control
ingredient, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, has been proven to prevent tartar,
but it can't remove tartar already on the teeth. Only a professional
cleaning can do that. Some dentists say tartar-control pastes can cause
mouth irritation, and do not do enough extra to warrant the risk of
this irritation except for extremely tartar-prone patients.
- "Whitening" toothpastes
are over-hyped. While the ADA
believes current levels of hydrogen peroxide in some whitening toothpastes
are safe, some dental experts say peroxide can irritate and damage gum
tissue. The bubbling may make you feel like you're getting a better
cleaning, and when combined with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide does
kill bacteria that cause gum problems. However, most experts say fluoride
plus triclosan is a better bet. No toothpaste has been proven effective
in actually changing the color of teeth. The whitening toothpastes merely
clean surface stains and cannot change the underlying tooth color.
- Sensitive formulas
can help those with mouth pain. These work for mild cases of tooth hypersensitivity,
but expect to wait four to six weeks before you feel any results. The ADA
recognizes two effective ingredients in treating sensitive teeth and
gums: strontium chloride and potassium nitrate. These "block the tube-like channels
that pass through teeth and connect to nerves," thereby reducing "the
ability of the nerves to transmit pain," says the ADA. Keep in mind that these won't work for
tooth pain caused by cavities or tooth problems other than receding
SLS if you have sensitive teeth or are prone to canker
lauryl sulfate can irritate the gums and lining of the mouth in some
people. If you are prone to mouth sensitivity or canker sores, dentists
recommend choosing a fluoride toothpaste that does not contain SLS.
- Consider the
level of abrasiveness. Abrasive ingredients are essential for removing
plaque, and are usually in the form of hydrated silica or calcium
carbonate. Polishing alumina added to hydrated silica is especially
effective. All ADA-approved toothpastes are within certain limits, but
the range is quite great. Some dentists advise erring in the direction
of low abrasiveness.
- Although toothpaste commercials often show actors
squirting a huge, swirling amount of toothpaste on the brush, experts
stress that you need no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
to do the job -- more than that is just product waste. Kids require even less.