Keeping it Simple: What to Look for in a Toothpaste


The first known formula for toothpaste was created by the Egyptians. It was a combination of crushed rock salt, mint, dried iris flowers, and pepper. Those ingredients were mixed together to create a cleaning powder. We’ve come a long way since then . . . or have we?


Avoiding the Additives

What makes a good toothpaste? Looking at tubes of toothpaste in your local store, you can see their manufacturers make a number of claims: whitening teeth, freshening breath, preventing cavities, fighting gingivitis, preventing plaque and tartar, providing cleaning, reducing tooth sensitivity, even improving your love life. Whew! When a product makes all those claims, you have to wonder whether they are all true and whether they are all equally important. In fact, they are not.


The simple fact is that the main purpose of tooth paste is to clean your teeth. Many of the other benefits claimed by toothpastes are really that one benefit — clean teeth — restated in a variety of forms. If your teeth are clean, your breath will naturally be fresher, your risk of cavities and gingivitis will be reduced, and plaque and tartar will get a slower start. Focusing on the essential function of cleaning teeth makes deciding what to look for in a toothpaste much simpler.

Toothpaste Manufacturers

Toothpaste Moreover, to support all the other claims, toothpaste manufacturers add all sorts of ingredients and chemicals to toothpastes. These additives are at best not necessary, and in some cases are better avoided. The drawbacks of some additives are often described in the less-visible sections of manufacturers’ web sites. For example, Colgate’s [discussion of hydrogen peroxides][http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/cosmetic-dentistry/teeth-whitening/article/sw-281474979318695] in toothpaste describes some drawbacks, but places them in a generally positive context.

So if additions in your toothpaste are to be avoided, what in particular are we talking about? Additives in many toothpastes include fluoride, flavoring agents, triclosan or other anti-microbials, dyes, sparkles!, detergents, thickening agents, peroxides, and so forth. Some of these are of limited efficacy; for example, whitening elements in toothpastes don’t make a significant difference in tooth shade.

Given this information, how should you choose the right toothpaste? The fact of the matter is that the toothpaste business is big business, as testified by the enormous dollars spent advertising and differentiating toothpaste brands. In addition, dental associations join in, by providing endorsements of particular tooth pastes. Dental associations such as the American Dental Association and the Canadian Dental Association place their seals on many tooth pastes but those endorsements don’t mean that clinical research has been provided. The CDA says that its “reviews include evaluation of the data from all clinical and laboratory tests mentioned in the [manufacturer’s] submission” but that standard is somewhat loose. Moreover, no tooth pastes are certified by the American Food and Drug administration except Colgate Total, which contains triclosan specifically for gingivitis. So the confusion grows.


Health food stores also sell toothpastes, typically ones that specifically exclude chemical additives to enhance scent and taste; these products will do just as good a job at the fundamental task of cleaning your teeth, without the risk of useless or unneeded additives.
The best advice is to keep it simple: choose a toothpaste that avoids additives, and focuses on cleaning. You will find that you have covered the bases on what is important.

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