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So Many Toothpastes...So Many Choices

It used to be easy to choose a toothpaste. Nowadays there are so many kinds, it can be confusing and difficult to decide which toothpaste is best suited for your smile. Here's a helpful guide offering descriptions of different toothpaste ingredients and how they work:


Fluoride has been prooven effective at reducing caries(cavities) for patients of all ages.  Twice daily brushing with fluoridated toothpaste is recommended by the Canadian and American Dental Associations.  Fluoride has also been shown to help recalcify early caries - in essence "heal" superficial enamel weaknesses.

Different manufacturers use different formulations of fluoride in their toothpastes.  Studies show that Sodium Fluoride(NaF) is the most effective of the available products.  Fortunately, it is also the most commonly used.

Children's toothpastes may contain a lower concentration of fluoride or no fluoride at all.  Until children are able to effectively "spit out" all of the toothpastes from their mouths, products with reduced fluoride concentations are recommended.

For adults with high caries rates or reduced salivary flow, products with incresed fluoride concentrations are available.  Your dentist can help recommend an appropriate product.

Tartar Control

These toothpastes contain an ingredient that can help reduce tartar (the hardened plaque than can lead to gum disease) from building up on teeth. It is important to note that these toothpastes only remove tartar above the gumline and only a professional dental cleaning can remove the most harmful tartar - the tartar that builds up below the gumline.

The most common ingredient used in tartar control products (pyrophosphate) can also cause side effects such as:

  • increased tooth sensitivity - especially in patients with gum recession
  • Sores on gums and inner borders of lips

If you experience either of these side effects resulting from the use of a tartar control product, please consult with your dentist.  They will help assess your needs and options.

Baking Soda

With its mild abrasivity, baking soda was thought to remove stains from teeth.  Recently, however, studies are showing that once mixed with the saliva in your mouth, the abrasive action fo baking soda is lost.  In fact, some studies show that higher baking soda content toothpastes actually lead to lower overall cleaning scores.  These pastes do not have any proven effect on periodontal disease, but because you may like the taste and feel of this kind of toothpaste, you might brush more often. Be careful though as excessive use may irritate your gums.

While not being harmful, baking soda toothpastes appear to not provide any additional benefit to your overall oral health.


These products can be very effective for treating tooth sensitivity to hot or cold drinks and food. For those patients who have experienced gum recession, these products work by providing extra protection on the sensitive, exposed root surfaces of your teeth.  The active ingredient in desensitizing toothpastes(most often 5% potassium nitrate) helps reduce temperature sensitivity in these areas.

It will take about four to six weeks of twice daily use before you notice any sensitivity improvement.  They are not effective when used only periodically. You should have your sensitivity checked by us first, to be sure it is not the result of a more serious problem.

Antibacterial/Anti-Plaque - Gingivitis Control

Some brands claim to help control mild superficial inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) by reducing levels of bacterial plaque.  Some are marginally effective, while others are not at all.  If you suffer from chronic gingivitis, please ask your dentist which toothpaste product is best suited for you. 

It is important to note that these products will not reverse/treat more severe gum disease(periodontal disease).  This must be managed by your dentist.

Stain Removal and Whitening

Whitening toothpastes often have abrasive ingredients added to help strip away stains.  These can be effective for people who build up heavy stain from habits such as smoking.  Most people, however, do not build up a level of stain that reqires the use of a potentially damaging abrasive.  It is also important to note that abrasives do not change the underlying(core) color of your teeth - they simply remove deposits on the outside surfaces.

Most people use whitening products for more than stain removal alone, but because they hope to change the underlying color of their teeth.  Many manufacturers have added hydrogen peroxide (and related products) in an attempt to "bleach" teeth while brushing.  Unfortunately the low concentration of the active ingredient combined with the short exposure time(a couple of minutes twice daily) has been shown to be ineffective for whitening teeth.  As well, daily exposure to peroxide products can case soft tissue sores.

The ingredient concentrations and techniques necessary to safely and effectively whiten teeth are only available from your dentist. Store-bought brands aren't strong enough to be effective and may carry increased side effects.

For more information regarding proper dental hygiene, or to book a consulation with a Winnipeg dentist, contact our Winnipeg Dental Clinic.


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