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What are you putting on your teeth?

Dentist puts the squeeze on toothpaste hype

New York, NY –  When you go to your local drugstore, there is a dizzying array of options to choose from when it comes to selecting the right toothpaste.  Whether it’s Crest, Colgate or one of the new, dentist-designed toothpastes, such as BriteSmile or GoSmile, the myriad of different products on the market has made a once simple trip to the toothpaste aisle an adventure.  With all the advertising hype on the packaging of toothpaste and products that promise fresh breath, how do we know what products are actually best for fighting tooth decay, whitening and combating bad breath?  Are the more expensive, dentist-designed toothpastes actually worth the buck?
The phrases used on the packaging of toothpaste products are meant to lure the consumer into purchasing what is being advertised and promises to promote better and healthier smiles. In a booming industry of 1.3 billion per year, to what degree are these marketing tactics fact or fiction?  What significance do the following buzz words have for lay people: prevents cavities, tooth-whitening, for sensitive teeth, prevents tartar build-up, aids cavity-prone teeth.” And with all the products out on the market, how do we know which one is right for our individual needs?  We asked New York cosmetic dentist and Maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Ngozi Etufugh to clear up some of the medical jargon.

According to Dr. Etufugh, “Choosing the right product for your teeth can be mystifying since there are hundreds of different products on the market promising bigger, brighter, healthier smiles.  Once upon a time, one could go to the drugstore and simply choose a toothpaste by brand.  These days, a consumer can get lost in all the choices since they now have to pick not only a brand but a flavor and type of toothpaste including cavity fighting, tartar control, whitening or a combination of all of these.”

Whether your teeth are coffee stained or sensitive, before choosing a product, Dr. Etufugh suggests first assessing exactly what your individual needs are.  The type and brand of toothpaste you use is a personal choice and depends mainly on your oral health needs. Below are some points to think about when choosing toothpaste that best suits you.

Helps Prevents Cavities: Most toothpaste contains fluoride in the product which immediately helps to fight against cavities, strengthen the enamel all while freshening your breath.  Flouride is the single most important ingredient when choosing toothpaste and most toothpastes have this ingredient listed first. According to Dr. Etufugh, “Cavity fighting toothpastes are effective but a regular cleaning by your dentist every six months is essential to fresh breath and healthy gums and teeth.”

“12-hour germ fighting”

While all fluoride toothpastes kill bacteria, these use a stronger antibacterial agent (triclosan) formulated to fight germs up to 12 hours after brushing. Research has shown that triclosan is safe to use, but the FDA is examining it to determine whether it contributes to antibiotic resistance.

Whitening: Most of the “whitening” toothpastes promise to give you the smile of a celebrity like Britney Spears or Catherine-Zeta Jones. The toothpastes that focus on whitening do help to remove stains but do not permanently whiten your teeth.  In order to permanently whiten teeth, Dr. Etufugh recommends one of the new laser whitening treatments like “Zoom” that are out on the market and are proven to be most effective.  Whitening products often times contain abrasives, which can remove stains caused by smoking, coffee or red wine. However, brushers beware because these abrasives can irritate gums and make teeth sensitive to hot and cold.  Also, be wary of whitening toothpaste that has a high acid content.  Acid in toothpaste is a concern of the FDA and negates any hygiene benefits.  Also note that some “tooth colored” fillings will discolor with age, and whitening toothpastes may not have any affect on them.

“Fluoride free”

In these, aloe and peppermint oil replace fluoride, in response to fears of cosmetic damage to enamel from too-high doses of fluoride. Dr. Etufugh states that, “Only children who swallow paste are at any risk. For the rest of us, fluoride is an essential cavity fighter”.

Sensitive Teeth: Many people have sensitive teeth or easily irritated gums. When using a sensitive-tooth product, if you experience any side effects from the type of toothpaste you are using such as prolonged sensitivity, sloughing of tissue, or a burning sensation, you must discontinue use and immediately consult a dental professional.

Tartar build up: This is helpful for those of us who seem to have heavy tartar/calculus build up. You should also know that many “anti-tartar” toothpastes contain phosphates, an ingredient shown to cause gum irritation and inflammation in some individuals.  If you experience any irritation, or sloughing of tissue, discontinue use and seek the advice of your oral health professional.

Finally, Dr. Etufugh advises consumers to, “Educate themselves as to what a product’s ingredients are, what effect they have on an individual’s teeth, and whether or not they are necessary. People may find that they have to reassess what they have been using and spending and start again using very simple, basic products.  The most important factor in choosing any toothpaste is to make sure the product contains fluoride and fights tooth decay.”

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