Look at all that toothpaste on store shelves: Pastes and gels for cleansing, whitening, detartaring, desensitizing and in child-pleasing tastes. Almost
as many brands and varieties as breakfast cereal.
At Toothpasteworld.com, Michigan dentist and self-professed toothpaste collector Val Kolpakov features hazelnut chocolate-flavored paste from Italy, as well as American-produced bourbon, whiskey, champagne and wine flavors.
But why do we use toothpaste at all?
Is it good for us? What does it do? What is the proper way to use it?
"Toothpaste is not even necessary. It's really not,'' says Dr. Nolan W. Allen, president of the Florida Dental Association.
"It's the motions of the brushing that gives us gingival health and overall oral health,'' the Clearwater dentist says. "Honestly, toothpaste is window dressing."
Not surprisingly, the people at Procter & Gamble, which manufactures Crest and Oral-B, have another view.
Listen to Matt Doyle, who directs P&G's global research and product development, including responsibilities for oral health:
Toothpaste, Doyle says, "fundamentally provides a cleaning mechanism that removes the bacteria and the biofilm, which we refer to as plaque, from the teeth and the adjacent tissues, which we call gums."
The chemical formula of toothpaste provides a material that cleans, coats and protects the teeth, he says. Some formulations provide an antibacterial agent to keep gums healthy or help with sensitivity caused by gum recession normal with aging. (That recession is where we get the phrase "long in the tooth.'')
Like Allen, though, Doyle says brushing is key. He says P&G studies show the average adult brushes an inadequate 20 seconds.
Allen recommends four or five minutes of brushing. But that's not all: Brush in the morning, the dentist says, and at night, floss first, then brush, then swish 30 seconds with an antimicrobial mouthwash.
"And then don't eat or drink anything else. Just go to bed."
But do use some toothpaste? Allen is willing to contradict himself by acknowledging that some toothpaste should be used rather than just the bare brush. He is a proponent of toothpaste that contains fluoride. He advises looking for the American Dental Association seal of approval on the package.
Allen says he treats patients who need tartar-control toothpaste and those who don't. The occasional patient may react adversely to a particular toothpaste formulation.
Manufacturers are "using too much imagination in some of their formulas," Allen contends. He says it's better to get your dentist's advice than to self-diagnose when buying toothpaste.
P&G's Doyle agrees.
"Everyone should be having that conversation with their dentist."
Freelance writer Juli Cragg Hilliard lives in Manatee County. Her Web site is www.julicragghilliard.com.
Dr. Nolan W. Allen, president of the Florida Dental Association, offers these tips:
• See your dentist regularly.
• It's not necessary to brush more than three times a day.
• Use only a thin ribbon of toothpaste. It's wasteful to use more. "Most of it is just rinsed away anyway," Allen says.
Matt Doyle, director of global research and product development for Procter & Gamble, says broad research trends in oral health that may affect us include:
• The connection with overall systemic health, such as blood sugar control.
• The link between oral health and preterm labor/low birth weight.