Walking through the dental section of a supermarket or chemist you see a confusing array of toothpastes to choose from: whitening, tartar control, gum protection, all- in- one. How do you know which to buy? This month we asked Dr Edwina for her tips on choosing the right toothpaste.
Q What are the main ingredients in toothpaste?
A The active ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride, usually in the form sodium fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate. Fluoride prevents decay by plugging up the microscopic holes made in your teeth by bacteria, thus stopping or slowing down decay.
The second most important ingredient is a mild abrasive. This helps polish teeth and remove plaque and comes in the form of hydrated silica, calcium carbonate, hydrated alumina or dicalcium phosphate.
Toothpaste also needs a foaming agent, usually sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), to loosen and break down particles on your teeth. Many people are concerned that SLS can cause cancer. While there is no evidence for this, people who are concerned can buy toothpaste without SLS in it. These toothpastes unfortunately do not contain fluoride, so do not protect teeth from decay in the same way that fluoride toothpastes do.
Flavouring, humectants and preservatives are also used in varying degrees.
Q Do toothpastes contain sugar?
A toothpastes do not contain sugar. They do, however, contain a variety of artificial and natural sweeteners as well as flavours. Essential oils such as peppermint oil are commonly used for flavour. For people sensitive to flavours, flavour- free toothpastes are available.
Q How much toothpaste should we put on our brushes?
A Toothpaste companies love showing images of a toothbrush covered in toothpaste, but in reality this is too much toothpaste. A pea- sized amount of toothpaste is all that is needed for adults and children over six years old. For children aged 3- 6 years old, a half- pea sized amount is appropriate. Between 18 months and 3 years a tiny smear is all that’s necessary. In fluoridated areas such as Sydney, parents should use a wash cloth or a wet soft toothbrush to clean their babies’ teeth without the use of toothpaste.
Q A single tube of toothpaste can very from $2 to $9. Does it matter if you choose a cheap toothpaste over an expensive one?
A Any fluoride toothpaste is fine to use. Spend more on a toothpaste if you prefer the flavour or feel of it
Q Do whitening toothpastes work?
A Whitening toothpastes can have a small effect on the shade of teeth because they are more abrasive than standard toothpastes. While this works in the short term, used excessive or long term use can lead to removal of enamel and actually make your teeth look worse.
Q There are so many types of toothpaste out there, which on would you recommend?
A Again, any fluoride toothpaste is fine to use. I don’t recommend people use whitening toothpastes or toothpaste without fluoride.