Fancy toothpastes may come in different colours and boast unusual ingredients, but they probably don’t offer better dental health than the average grocery store toothpaste. Here’s what to look for if you try a new brand:
Toothpastes provide a little mechanical help with scrubbing; that’s the main reason they exist. Particles of grit help to scrape bacterial plaque from your teeth. Some common abrasives include calcium carbonate, silica, aluminium oxide, and magnesium carbonate. Charcoal can also act as an abrasive, but some dentists caution that charcoal can be too harsh.
Fluoride or (maybe) an alternative
Bacteria are constantly dissolving your teeth, and your teeth are constantly trying to build themselves back up. (Your saliva naturally contains calcium to aid in this process.) This process, called remineralization, is helped along by fluoride.
Some brands now are using hydroxyapatite instead. Research shows that hydroxyapatite may be as good as fluoride for remineralising teeth, but the science isn’t yet solid enough for most dentists to recommend it. If you have a specific reason why you need to avoid fluoride, ask your dentist about hydroxyapatite; but for now, most of us should probably stick with fluoride toothpastes.
Ingredients for texture and flavour
Everything else is just there to make the toothpaste easy and pleasant to use. Humectants help the substance to keep a gel-like texture; foaming agents make it bubble up as you brush. Toothpastes that are missing these ingredients can still do a fine job of cleaning your teeth. (I use a toothpaste with no foaming agents and prefer it.)
Flavourings are flavourings, and sweeteners are now typically artificial sweeteners like saccharine.
So make sure to do some reading next time you go to the toiletries isle at the grocery store.