Does your choice in toothpaste really matter? Yes. In fact, choosing the right toothpaste is one of the most important oral health decisions you can make! The American Dental Association recently affirmed what dentists have been saying for a long time — fluoride toothpaste prevents cavities!
As a dentist, I’m here to tell you that the act of brushing and flossing isn’t enough. If you want to protect teeth, you need to choose fluoride toothpaste!
There are many health-related issues that aren’t exactly clear. The questions of the “best” diet, artificial sweeteners, or when and how you should stretch can all be fuzzy issues. But the science on fluoride is clear — it significantly reduces the risk of tooth decay.
When bacteria in your mouth break down sugar, they produce cavity-causing acids which eat away at tooth enamel. Fluoride helps protect and rebuild tooth enamel.
What Is Fluoride?
For those of you that prefer “natural” products, fluoride is “natural”. It’s a naturally-occurring mineral that helps build bones and teeth, and is commonly found in plants, water, and environment.
Research on fluoride’s relationship to dental health began a century ago in Colorado Springs. Many folks there had developed splotchy stains (enamel fluorosis) on their teeth. When Dr. Frederick McKay opened his dental practice there and began to investigate the issue, he noticed something else — their teeth seemed impervious to tooth decay.
Research demonstrated that the local water supply had very high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride, and it was responsible for the enamel fluorosis and the low levels of cavities present. That discovery left scientists with an intriguing question: Is there a level of fluoride that will protect teeth from cavities, but won’t discolor teeth?
It turns out that the answer to that question is “yes,” and it only takes a small amount. Grand Rapids, Michigan was the first town in the world to (intentionally) fortify their public drinking water with fluoride. Scientists spent more than a decade monitoring the health of tens of thousands of residents there, particularly the developing, school-aged children.
The results were stunning, with rates of tooth decay dropping by more than 60 percent. Since then, most communities have followed suit and fluoride has become a vital component to toothpaste and other oral health products.
The discovery of the oral health benefits of fluoride is often touted as one of the most important achievements of the last century. Dental caries is an issue that will affect nearly everyone, and daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste is the best way to prevent it.
Seventy years of research has proven that fluoride prevents cavities. There is simply no other ingredient with this kind of track record. Dentists have been recommending fluoride toothpaste for decades because it’s the most effective way of delivering fluoride and protecting teeth.
What’s in my toothpaste?
Are you concerned about all of the ingredients in your toothpaste? Toothpaste formulation is a well-developed science, but patients often have questions about what exactly is in that tube.
Here are the most common types of ingredients you’ll find in toothpaste.
Nature’s cavity fighter should always be the star of the show. Fluoride remineralizes the enamel that protects your teeth, and regular application strengthens the defense against tooth decay. Fluoride toothpaste doesn’t even need preservatives, due to the antibacterial properties of fluoride.
Most people, especially children, use far more toothpaste than is necessary. Very young children should be supervised so they learn to brush properly. Ensure that they spit rather than swallow the toothpaste.
Abrasives don’t directly reduce your risk of cavities, but they do the lion’s share of actual cleaning. Ingredients with fancy names like calcium carbonate, silica gels, and aluminum oxides are designed to gently clean the surface of your teeth without damaging the enamel.
You can’t get something clean without a proper detergent! It may sound harsh, but a detergent is an important component in your toothpaste. Detergents can break up buildup on teeth and act as surfactants, allowing substances to be broken up and rinsed away, just like detergents designed for dishes, laundry, or your shampoo. The most common detergent in toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulfate, and it helps make your toothpaste foamy.
Humectants and Binders
Humectant systems are the “glue” that hold the whole tube of toothpaste together. These ingredients do things like help the toothpaste retain its moisture and keep the contents from separating from one another. Ingredients like glycerol, sorbitol, gum arabic, and magnesium aluminum silicate are what (safely) keep your tube of toothpaste from going dry like a tube of paint would.
Brushing would have even lower levels of compliance if there wasn’t something to improve the flavor of the fluoride, abrasives, and detergents. Some sweetening agents, like sorbitol, are pulling double duty by doing another job, but no ADA-approved toothpaste will contain sugar or any sweetener that is a risk to your health.
Don’t Just Go Through the Motions — Choose Fluoride Toothpaste
Choosing the right toothpaste is as simple as starting with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. The American Dental Association has taken the guesswork out of toothpaste selection by certifying which ones are safe, contain an effective amount of fluoride, and have been demonstrated to work.
Choose a fluoride toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance for the best chance at preventing tooth decay.