The fine print often qualifies this by promising whiter teeth as a result of stain removal, not an overall whitening treatment.
Teeth-whitening products are the largest segment in the oral care market. When we examined ingredients in a selection of whitening toothpastes, however, we found none contain a bleaching agent – required to physically alter the colour of teeth. The fine print often qualifies this by promising whiter teeth as a result of stain removal, not an overall whitening treatment.
Of the 13 adult toothpastes we looked at, there was little difference in the active ingredients. All contain fluoride and an abrasive, the same humectant (which helps the paste retain moisture) and sweetener, as well as water, flavour and a lathering agent.
Colgate Advanced Whitening and Woolworths Homebrand Freshmint Toothpaste, for example, contain many of the same ingredients. Both use hydrated silica as the abrasive and the same suspension agent to prevent tartar from clinging to teeth. Although they don’t indicate the exact proportion of ingredients in the products, both include fluoride, a stabilising agent and titanium dioxide to give the paste an opaque, white appearance. The Woolworths product also includes a naturally occurring preservative – and is less than half the price of the Colgate “whitening” toothpaste.
White Glo Extra Strength Coffee & Tea Drinkers Formula costs more than three times as much as the Coles Smart Buy regular toothpaste, with very little difference in ingredients. Our analysis of ingredients found both use a calcium carbonate abrasive and fluoride, the same sweetener, humectant and a similar stabilising agent. The main difference seems to be that White Glo also has carnauba wax – derived from a Brazilian palm tree – and rosehip oil. Alldritt, who says teeth can only be properly whitened by applying a bleaching agent over a number of hours, strongly doubts the wax would make any real difference when it comes to preventing stains.
The experts we spoke to say the amount of abrasive in any given tube of toothpaste is capped to protect tooth enamel from erosion, so the cheaper, mainstream products are likely to have the same effect. However, Morgan argues that while cost is a factor in deciding which toothpaste to buy, you should stick with reputable brands as recently, in the the UK, some cheaper toothpastes have been found to not contain bio-available (absorbable) fluoride.
From milk teeth to big teeth, sparkling gel to Spiderman, children’s toothpastes haven’t been left behind in the rush to segment the oral health care market. There are sparkles, coloured stripes and even Wiggles-endorsed products. They’re sugar-free and include fluoride and abrasives just like toothpastes for adults.
How are they different?
As children are prone to swallow toothpaste, the ADA recommends parents avoid giving toothpaste to babies and toddlers up to 18 months and use only low-fluoride formulas for children 18 months to six years to prevent fluorosis (caused by ingesting too much fluoride).
Colgate markets its low-fluoride toothpaste as My First Colgate for children up to six, while Macleans offers Milk Teeth for children up to three years of age and Big Teeth for children over seven. Colgate also offers a big kids’ paste – for those six and up – with some clever Spiderman marketing. The ADA’s policy on fluoride does not require a specialised toothpaste for children aged over six, so Alldritt argues those “big kid” products are a case of an intermediate market being created. “It is not a problem for the teeth, but it is confusing for parents with so many choices,” he says.
Products for sensitive teeth
When enamel thins or gums recede, porous dentine – the home of many nerve endings – can become exposed. Sensitive toothpaste is designed to block the dentine tubules and minimise sensitivity when brushing.
Of all the spin-off segments in the oral care market, toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth is the most legitimate, according to both Alldritt and Morgan. While Alldritt is happy to recommend it to patients who need it, he warns it is not a cure for everything and shouldn’t be used to cover up more serious problems, such as decay.