“Whitens, Brightens and Confuses”

An article in last week’s Wall Street Journal, with the title “Whitens, Brightens and Confuses
reviews the abundance of toothpaste choices consumers are confronted with in today’s marketplace.  Buying toothpaste should be easy: but do you choose a paste or gel? A whitener? a plaque reducer? sensitivity fighter? gingivitis reducer?  Not to mention the multitude of  flavors and sizes.

In an acknowledgment of the problem, manufacturers are now introducing fewer new products. Last year, 69 new toothpastes were introduced, down from 102 in 2007.  Stores are also simplifying. In January, 352 different types or sizes of toothpaste were sold at retail, down from 412 in March, 2008.

Procter & Gamble’s Crest entered the toothpaste market in 1955, and in 1960 it became the first fluoride toothpaste to gain the American Dental Association’s “seal of acceptance.” Toothpaste was now therapeutic, rather than cosmetic, and sales of Crest more than doubled in two years.  In the 1980s tartar-control formulas became available, raising customer expectations of toothpaste’s benefits.

So here is the technical information:

Tartar-control toothpastes contain pyrophosphates, triclosan, zinc citrate or sodium hexametaphosphate which are ingredients that can help prevent buildup of hardened deposits on teeth.

For sensitive teeth, strontium chloride or potassium nitrate help block the transmission of sensation from the surface of the tooth to the nerve. “About 30% of the population suffers from sensitivity, but only half of them treat it,” says Pete Dornsife, of GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Sensodyne and Aquafresh toothpastes.

Sodium bicarbonate has been used to clean teeth (and kitchens) for over a century. Arm & Hammer toothpaste contains baking soda for “a natural way to clean and whiten teeth and deodorize breath.”

For whitening, Silica and enzymes are mild abrasives that scrape surface stains, such as caused by coffee, tea or red wine.  But deeper stains and decay will not whiten with “whiteners.”

As far as I am concerned, the differences among brands don’t mean very much. It’s more important how you brush and how often than what toothpaste you use.  But look for the ADA “seal of acceptance” that tells you that the product has been tested and that it is effective in doing what it is supposed to do.

For a comic take on the superabundance of available toothpastes in the market, view the Colbert Report.

Have you noticed that many toothpastes now have expiration dates? This is because all toothpastes containing fluoride are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which now requires expiration dates. Up to that date, normally two years after manufacture, all the fluoride must be available to bind to tooth enamel, hardening it against the acid that causes cavities. Once that date is past, some of the fluoride ions may have bound with the caking agents into a salt or a crystal and thus aren’t available to bind to tooth enamel. Also, depending on the length of time and temperature of storage, the paste could separate so that an uneven amount of fluoride or flavoring agent is expressed at each squeeze. The viscosity might change and the toothpaste might not have the same consistency.

So, check the date! In our Long Island dental office we regularly check the expiration dates of all of our dental products.

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