Toothpaste Explained by a Dentist

When I find myself in the dental health aisle at the supermarket, I’m always fascinated by how people choose their toothpaste. There’s a dizzying variety of modern toothpaste, such as “whitening,” “desensitizing,” “charcoal,” and “natural”. Which is the right one? I feel like stepping in and offering my professional opinion! But I’d best not. If they want their toothpaste explained by a dentist, they can read it here instead.

Before I reveal my favorite toothpaste brand, I’d like to explain a few things:

  • What good toothpaste should do.

  • Helpful and harmful toothpaste ingredients.

What should good toothpaste do? 🦷✨

It might seem obvious, but what exactly should good toothpaste do? Let’s go over three points I find the most important.

1. Make brushing teeth more pleasurable

A fresh and appealing taste is essential because it will increase the chances that you brush your teeth for the full two minutes that we dentists recommend. 

2. Prevent and reverse tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth sensitivity

🦷 Fluoride tackles tooth decay. Fluoride has hugely reduced the risk of tooth decay. Your toothpaste should contain at least 1450ppm (parts per million) of fluoride and an even higher percentage if you suffer from dry mouth or your teeth are at a greater risk of decay. Other remineralizing agents found in toothpaste include calcium phosphate.

🦷 The action of brushing tackles gum disease. Although some kinds of toothpaste contain antibacterial agents, the mechanical process of brushing your teeth is more important than the specific type of toothpaste you use. As a dentist, I would question whether toothpaste’s antibacterial agents are reaching the critical areas of the gums in sufficient concentration to be genuinely beneficial.

🦷 Potassium nitrate and calcium phosphate tackle tooth sensitivity. Specialist toothpaste for sensitive teeth can be very effective in gradually reducing your teeth’s sensitivity – caused by shrinking gums and exposing the roots of the tooth.

3. Improve the look of teeth and combat bad breath

Unsurprisingly, tooth whitening is the second most popular type of toothpaste (after the all-purpose ‘total care’ varieties). However, they don’t actually whiten your teeth but only remove stains instead. To actively whiten teeth requires a peroxide concentration that only your dentist can provide (if you live in the EU).

You may be aware of the recent fad for charcoal toothpaste as an aid in whitening and removing stains. But the effectiveness of charcoal toothpaste is highly questionable: a recent study showed a worrying lack of evidence of any dental health benefits, combined with a greater risk of enamel abrasion, a reduction in the effectiveness of fluoride, and even that charcoal toothpaste could be carcinogenic.

Other toothpaste ingredients to avoid are the foaming agent Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) – which can remove the protective biofilm covering your teeth and make them more susceptible to erosion. For the same reasons, I would also avoid abrasive agents such as salt, which is often included in homemade toothpaste.

Toothpaste explained

Which is the best toothpaste?

My preferred brand is Sensodyne, which contains 1,450ppm fluoride and doesn’t contain charcoal or SLS. Sensodyne is ideal for a fifty-something dentist who has been brushing his teeth too hard for years, shrinking the gums and exposing the roots of the teeth. However, the real magic ingredient is to remember to spit and NEVER to rinse after brushing (or use mouthwash) so that your teeth benefit from the fluoride in your toothpaste for longer.

Read more from our blog or learn more about Dr. Heff’s remarkable mints.

Dr. Mike Heffernan is a Specialist dentist and the co-inventor of Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints, a sugar-free mint that cleans and restores teeth – endorsed by Toothfriendly International.

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