Every culture in the world recognizes the importance of dental hygiene. Whether you live in Senegal and use a twig called a sothiou to scrub your teeth or you live in Japan and grew up brushing your teeth as a class after every meal, you learned the importance of brushing your teeth early on in life.
Not every culture incorporates toothpaste into their daily brushing routine, though. For instance, the tooth-cleaning twig called a miswak used in Arabic countries keeps teeth clean and even kills bacteria without any extra paste. However, in the West-where sugary diets and acidic sodas are the norm-most people use both a toothbrush and toothpaste to keep gum disease and cavities at bay.
Not all types of toothpaste are created equal, though. For the rest of our blog, we’ll tell you how toothpaste works, what ingredients it includes, and what your options are when it comes to choosing the right toothpaste for your unique grin.
What Is Toothpaste Made Of?
Your tooth’s surface seems solid, but it’s actually made of a porous material called enamel. The bacteria that live in your mouth transform the food you eat into sticky plaque that adheres to your enamel and gradually wears it away unless you remove the plaque with toothpaste and a toothbrush.
Toothpaste needs to be abrasive enough to scrub away plaque, but it needs to be gentle enough that it doesn’t harm your enamel.
Most types of toothpastes contain one or more of the following types of ingredients to protect your enamel:
- Detergents. Like regular detergent, the detergent in your toothpaste creates a foam that helps remove stuck particles.
- Abrasives. Chemicals like calcium carbonate are just abrasive enough to scrub stains away and remove plaque without damaging your teeth’s surface.
- Flavors. Some people use flavorless toothpaste, but others find the thick, white paste distasteful and even gag on the odd flavor. You don’t need a minty flavor to keep your teeth clean, but it can make the brushing process more enjoyable-and it leaves a pleasant tingle behind.
- Thickeners. These substances ensure that your toothpaste maintains its form and doesn’t trickle into a hard-to-use liquid.
- Humectants. As the name implies, humectants keep the toothpaste humid enough-or moist enoughthat it lasts in the tube without drying out.
Not every type of toothpaste contains every type of ingredient. For instance, not every toothpaste uses flavors or thickeners. Typically, though, any toothpaste you grab off the shelf will contain some mixture of the above materials, and any toothpaste you choose helps you scour cavity- and gingivitis-causing plaque from your teeth.
How Should You Choose Your Toothpaste?
Any toothpaste that has been certified by the American Dental Association (ADA) is safe to use and effective at preventing cavities. However, different types of toothpastes target different problems with your mouth. Based on your dentist’s recommendation, try one of the following types of toothpaste.
The vast majority of toothpastes include fluoride, and most people should choose toothpastes with fluoride whenever possible. Fluoride strengths your enamel so it isn’t as susceptible to cavities, and you don’t consume enough fluoride through your diet alone. Even if your city uses fluoridated water, you should still purchase fluoridated toothpaste.
If you don’t remove the plaque on your teeth, it gradually hardens into a substance called tartar that wears down your teeth and is harder to remove than plaque. The longer tartar stays on your teeth, the more likely you are to develop a problem like gingivitis or periodontitis.
If you have a lot of tartar on your teeth, your dentist might recommend that you choose a toothpaste that directly targets tartar.
Some toothpastes contain whitening agents that help your teeth shine. Although this type of toothpaste can help remove stains from your teeth, it probably won’t make a noticeable difference in your teeth’s coloring. You can use whitening toothpaste to maintain your smile, but if you want to make a larger difference, visit your dentist for professional teeth whitening.
Some people have more sensitive teeth than others. If you constantly wince when you consume hot or cold foods, you can use a sensitivity toothpaste to strengthen your teeth. Apart from switching toothpastes, talk to your dentist about the possible causes behind your tooth sensitivity-you might find that you grind your teeth at night or need to treat a cavity.
Some people dislike having detergents, flavors, or coloring added to their toothpaste. If you want a toothpaste that contains fewer chemicals or detergents, you can switch to a brand like Tom’s of Maine. You can also use Crest or Colgate baking soda toothpastes that trim down the amount of ingredients.
Remember to check the ingredients list when you buy a new toothpaste. Some toothpastes that are marketed as “all-natural” don’t contain fluoride but do contain sugar or other tooth-damaging substances. Always choose an ADA-approved toothpaste. Also, remember that fluoride is a naturally occurring substance that all types of toothpaste should include.
Children are more apt to swallow toothpaste than adults, and adult toothpaste can be hard on little kids’ tummies. Use a children’s toothpaste as you teach your kids how to clean their teeth. Again, remember to choose a fluoridated toothpaste. If you have a picky child, you can find healthy, safe children’s toothpastes in fun flavors like bubblegum.
Visit Your Dentist for More Help
Using the right toothpaste is crucial to maintaining your smile, but it doesn’t replace a semiannual visit to the dentist. During your twice-yearly dental visit, our hygienists polish your teeth with a slightly more abrasive paste that removes tartar and ensures your smile gleams.
The next time you visit, feel free to ask us about the right type of toothpaste for your unique mouth. We’ll help you make an informed decision as we work alongside you to maintain your lifelong dental health.