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"9 Out Of 10 Dentists Agree": Which Toothpaste Ingredients Actually Help Teeth?

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Advertisements for oral health care products will often brag that "9 out of 10 dentists agree" that this particular product bests its competitors. But the truth is that it's the ingredients not the brand name that determines how good a particular product is for your teeth. And there are a few key ingredients to watch for if you want toothpaste that actually helps your teeth rather than just getting them clean and smelling of mint.

Triclosan: Gingivitis Fighter

Some toothpaste contains the anti-bacterial agent triclosan. This is included to help combat gingivitis, a common gum disease that causes redness and swelling. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to the more serious disease periodontitis, which can weaken the gums to the point that teeth begin to fall out.

Triclosan has attracted a bit of controversy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed clinical trials showing altered hormone regulation in animals and the risk of triclosan giving rise to treatment-resistant bacteria. But the FDA has not removed triclosan from the market and considers the ingredient safe and effective in toothpaste.

Potassium Nitrate: Sensitivity Protector

Potassium nitrate is a common ingredients in toothpastes targeted towards those with sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity can cause pain and discomfort particularly when eating very hot or very cold foods or trying to bite into something hard. This can happen due to tooth damage or worn enamel, both of which can place the sensitive tooth root into contact with food and drink.

Desensitizing toothpaste is meant to reduce the amount of feeling you have in the gap between the tooth surface and the exposed route. And potassium nitrate is the key to making this reaction work. Those with severe teeth sensitivity may require both potassium nitrate toothpaste and a type of fluoride rinse to further protect the teeth. Otherwise, the pain will continue to increase until a root canal or crown might become necessary to cover the exposed root.

Fluoride: General Manager

Fluoride is one of the most common toothpaste ingredients because it does most of the heavy lifting in tooth protection. This includes keeping plaque bacteria from working against the teeth and causing decay. Fluoride can also essentially change the exterior structure of the enamel so that acid can't adhere and slowly eat away at the tooth. These functions are the main reasons a dentist recommends using toothpaste in the first place.

Fluoride has attracted controversy due to its inclusion in many city water supplies. Some scientific studies suggested that this usage of fluoride could lead to a rare type of bone cancer. But the evidence wasn't conclusive and related to drinking large amounts of fluorinated water rather than swallowing trace amounts while brushing your teeth.