Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma. There are so many toothpastes to choose from, how do I know which one to use? Courtney from Morley, WA.
Great question! The amount of choice is baffling, isn't it? When it all comes down to a matter of healthy teeth though, there's not much difference between a lot of the products on the market.
The best thing you can do for your teeth when choosing a toothpaste is to make sure it contains fluoride. When you brush with a fluoride toothpaste it is taken up by the outer layer of your enamel, making it more resistant to decay. It is well established that people who brush with a fluoride toothpaste experience less decay than those who brush with a non-fluoride toothpaste. Most of the mainstream brands are fluoridated. You'll mainly find that herbal and "natural" toothpastes are the ones that will be fluoride-free, but if you're in doubt it will always be listed on the packet.
Easy huh? Except that within fluoridated toothpastes, there are a number of other choices available to the consumer:
These are designed to remove and prevent the build-up of extrinsic staining. That's staining which is deposited on your teeth from things like tea, coffee, red wine, and cigarettes. Whitening toothpastes will not change the base colour of your enamel, but can help to keep your smile bright if you like to indulge. If you have no extrinsic staining, they are of little extra benefit. If you have sensitive teeth or a problem with enamel wear/erosion, they are best avoided as some can be more abrasive than plain toothpaste.
They really do work. If your teeth are sensitive to hot and cold, then using a sensitive toothpaste every day can help you enjoy eating ice-cream again. Note that some serious dental problems can present as sensitivity, so it's not a good idea to blindly keep using a sensitive toothpaste in the hope your pain will go away eventually. However, if your dentist has checked you out and diagnosed dentinal hypersensitivity, (the technical term for sensitive teeth), a sensitive toothpaste is the way to go.
I know some adults who like to use kids' toothpaste for various reasons. They like the flavour, or the novelty, or just the smaller tube size for travelling. If you're going to make it a daily habit you need to be careful about fluoride content. There are toothpastes marketed at children which have cartoon characters and the like on the packet, but they are meant for older kids and have the same fluoride content as boring adult toothpaste. If you want to use these, then knock yourself out. However, it's not a good idea to use a low-fluoride toothpaste designed for small children if you're an adult. Little kids aren't good at spitting their toothpaste out, so it is manufactured with a lower fluoride content to prevent problems from ingesting the paste. The lower fluoride levels are not as protective for teeth though, so if you're old enough to spit your toothpaste out you need to use a full strength toothpaste.
If you've got specific oral needs, then your dentist might recommend a toothpaste that does more. For example, high fluoride toothpaste is available from pharmacies if you're at increased risk of getting decay. There are also toothpastes specifically for sufferers of dry mouth, or those with allergies to common toothpaste ingredients such as sodium laurel sulphate. These specialty toothpastes should really only be used on the advice of your dentist or pharmacist.
That's the basics of choosing the best toothpaste for your mouth. Try not to get too caught up in the marketing hype of stripes, sparkles and superpowers. If you're using a fluoride toothpaste that you like the taste of, you're doing alright.