What we don’t know about toothpaste could ruin our teeth. If we want to prevent that, we need to read the labels that describe what is in the toothpaste and understand their meaning.
Toothpaste always seems to make our mouths feel clean and refreshed. That’s because of the mint-like flavoring and the foaming nature of most brands. Unfortunately, while the minty flavor and foaming make us feel better, they have nothing to do with cleaning our teeth. The actual cleaning comes from abrasive particles and/or chemical agents. But, abrasiveness can be bad for our teeth, and not all chemical agents work the same.
How Whitening Toothpastes Work
Whitening toothpastes often rely on whitening chemicals, but can also include abrasive particles to clean our teeth. Research shows that chemicals called enzymes slightly “reduced the naturally occurring stains more efficiently than the abrasive paste …” That’s because the abrasive particles remove plaque that is stained, but they won’t whiten enamel, especially in areas difficult for toothbrush bristles to reach.
According to the same research, some whitening toothpastes that are highly abrasive should not be used for more than 4 weeks. Doing so could scrape enamel and damage your teeth. Those low in abrasiveness that contain sodium bicarbonate will remove “considerably more tooth stain” than regular toothpaste, but only after 4 to 6 weeks.
Whitening toothpastes that rely more on enzymes (such as Papain or Bemoelain), destroy the tooth film where bacteria and stain accumulate. Papain, a papaya extract, is reported to have healing properties that reduce inflammation and is kind to enamel because it is non acidic. These are the best properties for whitening sensitive teeth. Additionally, whitening toothpastes with enzymes are reported to have a longer whitening effect after 2 months than those that rely on abrasives, alone, for whitening.
Does Fluoride Toothpaste Help Sensitivity?
Carbonated drinks and fruit juices are naturally acidic and will make sensitive teeth worse. According to research, rinsing with different kinds of fluoride can reduce tooth erosion from acids and abrasives, and reduce sensitivity. Rinsing with stannous fluoride or titanium fluoride had the best results, while sodium fluoride was far less positive.
The best way to minimize sensitivity is to avoid acids, of which carbonated drinks are high on the list. If you are having acids, make sure you use low abrasive toothpaste and brush not sooner than several hours after having consumed acidic substances. As for which toothpaste works best in reducing sensitivity, one research report indicated Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief was more effective than Sensodyne Rapid Relief.
Can Fluoride in Toothpaste Prevent Cavities?
Yes, but not the same for everyone, and in every location. Fluoride must accumulate to prevent cavities because its concentration is normally low. That means, for the best results, we need fluoridated drinking water (which varies by location) along with fluoride toothpaste. Those who are cavity prone or have very sensitive teeth might need their dental professional to apply and/or prescribe stronger fluoride gels or rinses.