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A Guide to Toothpaste – What you Need to Know for Your Family


The simple answer is yes; it actually does matter what kind of toothpaste you buy. However, choosing a brand or type shouldn’t require too much research. Most of the time, toothpaste “features” don’t matter and you’re better off just buying an ordinary tube. That’s the simple answer which should work for most people. But let’s get into the details:

Toothpaste “Features” Rarely Matter (and You May Want to Avoid Them)

When you look at what’s available, every toothpaste sounds like it might be worth trying. After all, everyone wants white teeth and fresher breath. And most of us will do anything we can to prevent cavities. But how do you know that you’re not simply being seduced by clever marketing? You can’t use three or four different toothpastes every day. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t seem right to change the brand you use every time a new product with an exciting new name is launched.

You shouldn’t be surprised to read that the  manufacturers of toothpaste add features to encourage you to buy their products. Unfortunately, you often find these fancier tubes don’t produce the benefits you paid for. Some additives really do help, but many are simply a waste of time.

If you want to know which toothpaste is the best to use, you need to start by finding out what is actually in them – so have a look at the label. Many toothpastes actually contain the same basic ingredients – that extra feature that gives them a marketing spin is often simply a tweak to the same standard recipe.

Most well-known brands have a similar basic formula. Apart from water, the most common ingredients are usually an abrasive to remove staining and polish your teeth, a detergent (known as a surfactant) to make the foam inside your mouth, and fluoride, which actively protects your teeth from decay. On top of these ingredients are others, such as flavourings, and preservatives. A toothpaste which follows this formula should be enough to keep your teeth healthy and free from decay.

Check the Fluoride Levels in Your Toothpaste

If you look at the ingredients list on a toothpaste pack you may find that fluoride appears in a variety of ways. Nothing suspicious in that – some forms of fluoride work better than others when they’re combined with the other ingredients. However, understanding the amount of fluoride that’s in each brand is difficult when you’re faced with different compounds such as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate.

To help you out, all toothpastes should now tell you how many ‘parts per million’ (or ppm) of fluoride they contain.

In general, the higher the better. Try to look for a toothpaste containing 1450ppm or more of fluoride. If it has 1100ppm or lower – you probably should choose a different brand.

Whitening Toothpastes and other Features

Above and beyond fluoride, the toothpaste you use will often simply be down to personal preference. Many adults, for example, choose brands that feature ‘whitening’. You’d be best advised to speak to your dentist before using these. Some whitening toothpastes can be abrasive and tough on your teeth, doing more damage than good. Don’t forget, also, that everybody has different teeth. So a toothpaste that helps to whiten one person’s teeth may make no difference at all to another person’s.

Many brands on the market claim to help remove stains caused by smoking. Once again, they usually do this by being particularly abrasive. If you find staining is a problem, most dentists would recommend that, rather than changing your toothpaste, you should give up smoking.

If you’d like whiter teeth, talk to your dentist about professional whitening techniques. This may cost more than a tube of toothpaste, but it produces great results (unlike the toothpaste).

Brands advertised as ‘sensitive’ toothpastes are now very common, and work to calm the nerve of the tooth. Some of these can be very effective, although if you’ve got persistent sensitivity you should probably get checked over by your dentist to make sure all is well with your teeth and gums.  The toothpaste may make the sensitivity bearable, but your dentist might be able to identify the ultimate cause of the problem.

Can Toothpastes be Harmful?

Many commonly used toothpastes contain substances that are known to cause problems – for some people. Sensitivity reactions can occur to a variety of ingredients (known as ‘excipients’). For example, chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulphate, which is widely used as a surfactant (to make the toothpaste foam up inside your mouth) has been shown to cause irritation or allergic reactions in some people. Soreness affecting your mouth or lips – or even allergic reactions affecting your whole body, could be linked to a reaction to toothpaste. You can read many horror stories on the internet, but in reality these reactions are rare.

If you’d like to find out more about the additives used in toothpastes the UK, you can click here

Be aware, however, that toothpastes sourced from outside the UK and some less well known brands may not have been tested. And don’t assume that ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ toothpastes are free of potentially damaging chemicals.

Can Fluoride be Dangerous?

It’s true that some toothpastes are made with very high levels of fluoride (2800ppm or more). Eating the contents of a tube of these toothpastes could result in a toxic dose: these specialised toothpastes should only be used on the advice of your dentist.

Many parents worry about fluorosis. Fluorosis affects children when their teeth are growing and it is caused by too much fluoride in the diet. It can lead to permanent discolouration of the teeth, although this can range from barely noticeable to more severe discolouration. Once again, if you have concerns about the type of toothpaste your child needs, you speak to your dentist first. They will be able to recommend the right type of toothpaste and to demonstrate how much you should use. For children, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is the standard recommendation.

Categories Dental Care, Family, Health
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