Ultimate Toothpaste Guide
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
If you are the member of the family responsible for the weekly shop, you'll know that when it comes to the toothpaste section of the toiletries aisle there are a myriad of options. Flashy boxes, tubes and point of sale adverts with sparkly packaging and some even with holograms. They are catching your eye, but how do you know which one is for you, and what are they supposed to do? Do they work? Toothpaste certainly isn't the most expensive thing on the shopping list, but they aren't giving them away, and you don't want to be wasting your time and money on a product that is either ineffective or unproven.
In terms of the types of toothpaste there are broadly 7 types of toothpaste on the market; Anti-cavity, Gum health, Anti-tartar, Sensitivity, Whitening, Natural and Children's toothpaste. Within each category then there are numerous brands and options. They aren't deliberately trying to confuse you, but on the Colgate website there are 51 varieties of toothpaste advertised. Aquafresh have a more streamlined catalogue, but still have 10 types advertised.
Let's try and break down your options.
Broadly, this is any toothpaste formulated to try to reduce the risk of the demineralisation that commences during the decay of a tooth. They do this by delivering Fluoride to the tooth. Enamel with calcium is strong, but enamel with a mix of calcium and fluoride are shown to be more resistant to cavities. This is why it is added to your water. Most toothpastes today contain a version of Fluoride such as "Sodium Fluoride", but check the back of the ingredients to see does it have enough. You are looking for it to say something similar to the image below - about 1400-1500 ppm of fluoride. This type of toothpaste is great for everybody, but particularly anyone with a risk of tooth decay.
Most toothpastes on the market today contain Fluoride, so most can carry the anti-cavity label on them, but some of the ones you would find in the pharmacy could be even stronger containing up to twice as much fluoride as a normal toothpaste.
The gums really run in to problems in the presence of bacteria, and in the mouth this we can see visually in the form of plaque and calculus (tartar). So if there was only a way we could keep this off of our teeth... Primarily the physical brushing action with the toothbrush will disturb the plaque enough to prevent trouble, especially when combined with flossing between the teeth. When it comes to the toothpastes and what they can do to help, then we are looking at active ingredients that have been shown to help reduce the damage by either killing bacteria, preventing the bacteria from multiplying, or preventing bacteria from binding against the teeth. so any toothpaste containing suitable levels of triclosan or chlorhexidine should be effective in this situation. The products most commonly seen with these ingredients would be Colgate Total and Curasept. Most other toothpastes that advertise themselves as good for the gums, do so on the basis that the mechanics of brushing will help plaque removal. Corsodyl Toothpaste claims to help plaque removal with the use of sodium bicarbonate.
This type of toothpaste is designed to prevent the build up of the chalky calculus (tartar) that builds up on the side of your teeth and contributes to discolouration and gum disease. This stuff forms because your saliva is packed with minerals such as calcium and phosphates. Most of the toothpastes on the market will work by virtue of the fact that they can prevent tartar by eliminating the plaque that causes it. There are however some products in the supermarket and the pharmacy that claim to work by using Zinc salts or complex polyphosphates that try to eliminate some of the calcium in the mouth slowing the growth of the calculus.
This is the variety of toothpaste that you will see advertised most often, products like Sensodyne or Colgate Sensitive Pro Relief. Sensitivity most commonly caused by the exposure of dentine at the neck of the tooth to cold drinks or foods, but it can occur in other ways. Desensitising toothpastes work by either blocking up the tiny tubules on the surface that contain the nerve endings, or they work by turning off the nerve and reducing the sensitivity. This depends on the ingredients that they are made for, but you will recognise a couple of the major brands below from the TV, but also from your supermarket shelves.
Sensodyne Pronamel in particular (pictured above) is a specially formulated product designed to neutralise acid from the diet and strengthen the mineral within the enamel which is often the cause of shortened, worn teeth and also sensitivity. Enamel cannot be replaced though, and some of the marketing sometimes seems to suggest it can, it is a useful aid to people whose dentists have warned them about acid erosion.
Whitening toothpaste can appear to whiten teeth slightly by removing surface stains, such as those caused by drinking coffee or smoking. Whitening toothpastes can't change the natural colour of your teeth or lighten a stain that goes deeper than a tooth's surface.
Most tooth-whitening products (like bleaches from your dentist) will contain a peroxide based chemical, but whitening toothpastes utilise different methods. To remove surface stains, whitening toothpaste typically includes either special abrasives that gently polish the teeth or chemicals that help break down or dissolve stains. Some whitening toothpastes contain the chemical blue covarine, which adheres to the surface of the teeth and creates an optical illusion that can make teeth appear less yellow.
Commonly utilised by people wanting to avoid one of two chemicals, Fluoride or SLS. Some people hate the idea of chemicals in the products that they are putting into their mouths. Unfortunately everything is a chemical, and although some of the ingredients listed on foods or beauty products can be scary, they are all tested and harmless. For example the chemical ingredients of anything can sound daunting, take an egg for instance. Thanks to James Kennedy in Australia for this image.
Euthymol is one such toothpaste, it contains no added fluoride. There are also toothpastes which contain no SLS which is the frothing agent that makes it froth up in your mouth. A detergent, it helps break up the plaque deposits, but some people can develop a sensitivity to it like anything else. For these people something like a natural toothpaste or Sensodyne (some varieties don't use SLS).
This type of toothpaste typically contains less fluoride than those designed for adults. This is because of the health risks posed to children who might accidentally ingest too much fluoride. Children’s toothpaste also has fewer abrasives in it since kids’ teeth are much more sensitive than those of adults. Additionally, children’s toothpaste is flavoured with the sweet tooth of youngsters in mind. Flavours like tutti-fruity or mild mint as opposed to our spearmint or peppermint, which can often feel 'hot' to kids.