Properly cleaning your teeth is important and is even more essential during orthodontic treatment. Whether you are wearing traditional brackets or alternative options like Invisalign, braces significantly increase your susceptibility to tooth decay if you don’t care for your teeth as instructed.
Though good oral hygiene comes from a blend of many habits, brushing is the bedrock of dental care. For most people, brushing includes using toothpaste. Deciding which type of toothpaste to use can feel overwhelming with so many options on the market today.
Here is a guide to help you understand the basics of toothpaste categories. Keep in mind that these categories are not mutually exclusive. You may use a brand of toothpaste that contains fluoride and desensitizing agents, for example.
The Role of Toothpaste
You may be surprised to learn that toothpaste is not necessary to clean teeth effectively. Combined with regular flossing, limiting sugary food and drinks, and having routine dentist appointments, brushing with a good quality toothbrush and water is enough to remove most plaque and keep teeth healthy. However, there are many benefits to using toothpaste that a simple cleaning can’t provide. Toothpaste prevents bad breath, gingivitis, and tooth sensitivity. It helps strengthen the tooth’s enamel and balances pH levels.
In general, most toothpaste consists of:
- Mild abrasives that remove stains and debris from the teeth
- Flavors to add taste, which come from sugar-free sweetening agents that will not harm the teeth
- Humectant, which traps water in the toothpaste and allows it to maintain a gel-like texture
- Detergents that cause the foaming action during brushing
Fluoride is a natural element that helps remove plaque and provides a protective barrier for your teeth. A lack of fluoride can lead to tooth decay, even if you otherwise take care of your teeth.
The addition of fluoride to toothpaste helps it strengthen enamel, making the teeth and gums less susceptible to disease and decay. It can also reverse the early stages of acid damage by remineralizing areas that have started to erode, which is why you can find fluoride in more than 90 percent of toothpastes on the market.
The fluoride content of toothpaste will appear on the side of the tube and should contain between 1,350 and 1,500 parts per million (ppm). There are types of prescripton toothpaste available with higher concentrations of fluoride. Your dental professional may consider this option if your teeth have an exceptionally high risk of decay. Children generally should not use fluoride toothpaste, though under 500 ppm can be appropriate for older kids.
Desensitizing toothpaste contains potassium nitrate, stannous fluoride, or strontium chloride, which are numbing agents that block pain signals to your tooth’s nerves. Typically, teeth become sensitive after a layer of enamel has worn away, exposing them to the air — and anything you eat or drink.
It is normal to experience some tooth sensitivity with braces after each adjustment. If sensitivity lingers or becomes painful, other factors might be involved. Common causes of tooth sensitivity include over-brushing (brushing too frequently or pressing down too hard with the toothbrush), acidic foods and beverages, whitening products, or teeth grinding.
Some toothpaste brands advertise immediate results, but experts say that users typically need to brush consistently with the desensitizing toothpaste for several weeks to notice results. For severe sensitivity and pain, your dentist or orthodontist might need to prescribe a toothpaste with a higher concentration of desensitizing agents.
Tartar Control Toothpaste
Everyone has a layer of bacteria on their teeth called plaque, which can harden into tartar if not removed promptly with proper oral hygiene. This hard-to-remove deposit can build on your teeth and under your gums, leading to gum disease.
Tartar-control toothpaste may contain sodium pyrophosphate or hexametaphosphate and zinc citrate to help prevent the calcification of tartar and reduce its visible stains. However, tartar-control toothpaste is only a preventative—it won’t remove existing tartar. Only a professional dental cleaning can do that.
In addition to treating plaque, the active ingredients in tartar-control toothpaste reduce bacteria’s toxic effects on the teeth and surrounding tissues. A tartar-control toothpaste is usually recommended to anyone experiencing gum disease.
Whitening toothpaste can help brighten your teeth by lessening mild surface stains. Whitening toothpaste can produce results in about six weeks if used at least twice per day, but remember that it will not alter the natural color of your teeth or travel beyond the surface to remove deep stains. The toothpaste often will include abrasive properties that polish the teeth and a bleaching agent.
Though whitening toothpaste is not generally harsher on the teeth than other types, it is essential not to overuse them. And stay away from whitening toothpaste while wearing braces, as they may whiten your teeth just enough to cause a noticeable difference in the color behind the brackets.
Herbal toothpaste contains all-natural ingredients and can be a good option for people sensitive to additives in conventional toothpaste or who have chronic mouth rashes or sores. However, most herbal toothpaste does not contain fluoride and will not efficiently fight against tooth decay. Suppose you use herbal toothpaste without fluoride. In that case, it is highly recommended to receive fluoride from an alternative source, such as fortified rinses or gels, or even drinking water containing fluoride.
How Much Toothpaste to Use
The amount of toothpaste you need for an effective clearing is probably less than you think. A pea-sized dab of toothpaste is all it takes to receive all the dental health benefits and produce enough foam to cover all your teeth. Kids younger than six should use even less toothpaste when brushing – an amount about the size of a grain of rice.
Most dentists and orthodontists will recommend using toothpaste that the American Dental Association approves. Check for the ADA seal of acceptance on the packaging, as some significant companies manufacture a mix of products that are both ADA-approved and non-approved.
Are you interested in starting orthodontic treatment? Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified orthodontists.