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Choosing a toothbrush is relatively simple: dentists recommend brushing with a small-headed soft-bristled brush, for two minutes, twice a day. But how on earth do you decide between the 50-odd toothpastes on the supermarket shelves?

Everybody has bacteria in their mouth which live on sugars in the diet. During the day, this bacteria forms plaque on our teeth and gums. Over time, this begins to dissolve the teeth, causing dental decay (holes).

At the same time, the bacterial plaque irritates the gums and can lead to gum disease.

Here’s what to look for when choosing a toothpaste.


First, consistency may be a factor in your decision. Gels and pastes are easier to use than liquids because they stay on your toothbrush better.


Taste may be important in your decision. For example, kid-friendly toothpaste (i.e., bubble gum flavored) may be preferred by your children over the spicier flavored adult toothpastes.


The most important ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride. Fluoride assists with remineralising (strengthening) the teeth to reverse and prevent decay. More than a decade of evidence shows using a fluoride toothpaste  twice a day results in less decay.

High-fluoride toothpastes provide increased protection to those at high risk of dental decay. But they should be used only on the recommendation of your dentist or hygienist, and are only available from pharmacies.

Children’s toothpastes usually contain less fluoride, as children may not effectively spit toothpaste out.


Whitening toothpastes work primarily by increasing the abrasiveness of the product. Mild abrasives help keep teeth clean and prevent staining.

For whiter teeth, choose toothpaste with sodium hexametaphosphate, which will help remove surface stains and prevent new ones from forming.

Some whitening toothpastes also contain hydrogen peroxide. Higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide are used professionally. But at the percentages added to toothpaste, there is no strong evidence for its effectiveness


Sensitive toothpastes are very effective. However there is a confusing array of choices. Active ingredients are broken into two categories.

The first category includes potassium nitrate and potassium citrate. These work by stopping the nerve from transmitting signals. It takes about two weeks for these to accumulate enough to be effective. These products tend to be a bit less expensive.

The second category includes ingredients such as strontium, arginine (Pro-Argin®) and calcium sodium phosphosilicate (NovaMin™). These work by blocking the dentine tubules (the “pores” in the roots of the teeth). Strontium is an effective desensitiser, however some products may not contain fluoride, so check the box for this. Pro-Argin and NovaMin are also effective desensitisers.

Plaque Control

If your goal is to help reduce the buildup of tartar deposits, or calculus, on your teeth, choose a paste with pyrophosphates.


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