Dental health is a huge business with an endless variety of products available. Chief among them is toothpaste. There are many, many brands of toothpaste on the market today. What's the difference among them? Are they all the same and does it matter which one you use?
Why Do We Need Toothpaste?
Toothpaste is an oral hygiene staple, with its companion toothbrush. The abrasive substance is applied to the brush and the brushing action helps remove plaque and food particles from the teeth. Brushing is of utmost importance in preventing tooth decay. No one wants to have cavities filled, or worse--root canal!
History of Toothpaste
The widespread use of toothpaste is relatively modern, but the Greeks and Romans, always concerned with cleanliness and hygiene, utilized a mixture containing crushed bones and oyster shells to clean their teeth. From then until about the 19th century, cleaning one's teeth was the least of most people's problems; scrounging for food and fleeing pillaging invaders occupied most people's time.
Tooth powder, a disgusting mixture of chalk and salts, became popular in 19th century England, and a paste was developed not longer after that in America and Britain.
For most people who actually used a product to help clean their teeth before the mid 20th century, the main choice was baking soda. Baking soda was cheap, readily available, and did a relatively good job. Toothpaste manufacturers tell us that baking soda is messy, feels gritty and isn't approved by the American Dental Association. However, that didn't stop them from producing a baking-soda-added toothpaste.
Along with teeth cleaning, toothpaste works to freshen breath. Simply getting rid of food particles accomplishes that.
Baking soda is the chief alternative to a commercially developed toothpaste, and does quite a good job.
Manufacturers and Brands
- Procter & Gamble - Crest and Gleem.
- GlaxoSmithKline - Aquafresh and Sensodyne.
- Colgate-Palmolive - Colgate.
- Church & Dwight - Arm & Hammer, Close-Up, and Pepsodent.
Each individual brand offers several varieties. Crest leads the pack with 7 varieties of classic toothpaste, 7 dentist-inspired varieties, 8 sensitivity choices, 22 whitening pastes, 14 flavor experience varieties, 7 fresh breath versions, and 6 kids' toothpastes.
Toothpaste is labeled with various functions, including...
- Whitening - White teeth are very important to the fashion conscious. Whitening toothpastes are just one part of the whitening and brightening arsenal, which includes strips, creams and rinses. Sustained use of caffeine and foods such as blueberries cause teeth to be stained and yellowed. Whitening products are very popular for clearing up this unsightly problem.
- Sensitive - Many people have teeth that are sensitive to cold and heat, a symptom of decay and disease. Toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth incorporates potassium ions which desensitizes nerve endings.
- Tartar control - Tartar is plaque that has hardened and adheres to your teeth. Tartar is extremely difficult to remove and allows decay to take hold. In addition, gingivitis can form with increased plaque and tartar build up, and that leads to serious gum disease.
- Enamel shield - These toothpastes claims to harden the tooth enamel. Although regarded as the hardest substance in the body, once enamel is gone, it can't be retrieved.
- Gel - For those who want a change from the same old paste, gel products are offered. Is gel better than paste? No, just different. It beats brushing boredom.
- Children's formula - Just like all products for kids, toothpaste for children comes in colorful packaging with funny cartoon characters. Manufacturers haven't figured out how to put a prize inside the tube, yet, but anything that gets kids to brush more frequently is good.
- Baking soda - No doubt the addition of baking soda caters to people who believe that anything old must be good. Why mess around with a box of Arm and Hammer when it's already in a tube for you?
- Striped (combining two functions) - A novelty, for sure, but it's kind of cool to see striped toothpaste squirting out of the tube.
The most popular flavorings of toothpaste are peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen, but other more exotic flavors are available, too, including orange, vanilla, cinnamon and lemon.
Chief among toothpaste additives are fluoride and baking soda. Dental experts have claimed for years that fluoride prevents cavities.
The standard tube is the obvious packaging method for toothpaste. Aerosol or pump cans are alternate choices, and make applying paste to the brush a bit more fun. Keys to roll up the tube from the bottom and squeeze every last drop of paste out were a novelty addition for a time. However, just rolling up the tube very tightly can accomplish nearly the same task.
Dental Hygiene Products
A myriad of accompanying products is produced to aid consumers in their dental war, including dental floss, water picks, rinses, and many styles of electric toothbrushes. Floss is a necessary addition to brushing, and water picks and electric toothbrushes certainly boost oral health.
With the huge amount of toothpaste products to choose from, you would think that dentists would be out of business and cavities a thing of the past. Not so. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 95% of Americans over age 45 have teeth affected by tooth decay. Of course, much of this is due to the natural aging process and the sugar-laden, carbohydrate-rich diets we eat in America.
So what is the perfect toothpaste, the best one? Most of them are very similar. The process of brushing itself and the abrasion involved in it is what is effective.
If you want whitening and tartar control, maybe you could use two toothpastes, one in the morning and one at bedtime.
Not to worry, though. Toothpaste manufacturers have that problem covered. Many toothpastes offer multiple coverages, and are labeled "multi-benefit." For example, Aim multi-benefit boasts that it cleans, freshens, strengthens enamel and protects. Wow! Perhaps it could leap tall buildings in a single bound, too!
Popular toothpastes come and go, and marketing plays a huge role in their success with consumers, probably more than the actual ingredients in the product formula.
Remember the movie, Blast from the Past, where Brendan Fraser played a man who had lived all of his life in a bomb shelter? When he finally came up to the world above, his friends didn't believe his outrageous story until they saw a tube of toothpaste in his hotel room that had been manufactured in 1962, Ipana. Do you think that Ipana was any less effective at cleaning teeth than the products available today? Probably not. It did have great marketing, though, including a Disney mascot named Bucky Beaver who promoted the brand. Ipana was the top toothpaste in America from the 1920s through the 1950s, when Bristol-Myers failed to keep pace with the stepped-up marketing of personal care giant, Procter & Gamble.
Still, we really need to use more of the wealth of toothpaste products on the market. It's better than a trip to the dentist any day!