When used with a toothbrush, toothpaste helps to remove dental plaque, surface stains and food debris on the surfaces of teeth, gums and the tongue. It has preventive, therapeutic and cosmetic benefits. Toothpaste comes in three forms: paste, gel, and a combination of paste and gel.
Almost all toothpastes contain fluoride in the form of sodium fluoride , sodium monofluorophosphate or stannous fluoride. Research has shown that these preventive agents can reduce cavities.
What is fluoride?
Fluoride is a natural element found in the soil, water and various foods. It is good for your oral health, in that it strengthens tooth enamel and helps prevent cavities.
Main categories of toothpaste on the market
Whitening toothpastes contain abrasives, such as baking soda or aluminium oxide, to eliminate stains caused by coffee, tea, wine and tobacco. Product labels seldom mention their level of abrasiveness. According to the latest studies, “new generation” toothpastes are said to contain cleaning agents that do not increase abrasiveness. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to regularly alternate between a whitening toothpaste and a less abrasive toothpaste. You should also note that the use of highly abrasive products can increase the surface roughness of enamel creating the conditions for the development of new stains.
Tartar-fighting toothpastes contain pyrophosphates or sodium tripolyphosphate. While these ingredients can help slow the formation of tartar, they have no impact on existing tartar or on tartar that develops between teeth and under the gums.
Toothpastes for sensitive teeth contain potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride. These ingredients block the nerve impulse responsible for sending pain signals to the tooth nerve. The use of this type of toothpaste may provide relief but may not completely eliminate the sensitivity. Since tooth sensitivity varies from one person – and even from one tooth – to another, it is hard to determine exactly how long it will take for the issue to resolve after using the toothpaste. It can take a few weeks, depending on the degree of sensitivity. When one or more teeth become sensitive for no apparent reason, it is best to see a dentist, who will be able to diagnose the cause and select the proper treatment.
All-in-one toothpastes contain fluoride combined with abrasives, tartar-fighting agents or ingredients to reduce tooth sensitivity. Even if the label of an all-in-one toothpaste says it removes plaque, reduces bacteria, combats tartar buildup, prevents cavities and reduces or prevents gingivitis, you will still need to take the time to brush and floss well in order to completely eliminate plaque and bacteria lodged between teeth. The use of an all-in-one toothpaste is not recommended for people who develop an allergy or tooth or gum sensitivity after using such products.
Toothpastes for children contain flavours and colours to make them more appealing. Their fluoride content is also lower than regular toothpaste to prevent kids from swallowing too much.
“Natural” toothpastes are generally free of fluoride, colouring agents and preservatives. They contain spice, plant and fruit extracts.
Some toothpastes bear the seal of the Canadian Dental Association, indicating the CDA’s recognition that a product is beneficial for oral health. Manufacturers who wish to have their products evaluated must submit a request. To see the list of products recognized by the CDA, go to www.cda-adc.ca.
Watch out for fluorosis
Young children who swallow too much toothpaste can develop dental fluorosis, so it is important to supervise children under six while they are brushing. The teeth of children under three should be brushed by an adult.
Slight fluorosis produces white stains on the child’s teeth, but is not dangerous. Fluorosis does not occur in adults.