The Difference Between Toothpastes

Barry Schwartz, a popular American psychology, describes a phenomenon that he calls the Paradox of Choice. The paradox boils down to quite a simple, but somewhat surprising, concept: when you have too many different options, your ability to make a decision is decreased, rather than increased. That’s because when you have too many options, and too little knowledge, the chances that any option you pick will be better than all the options is lower than if you just had two or three options. This paradox applies to most people’s knowledge of toothpaste: walk into a grocery store, and you might see dozens of different kinds of toothpaste. What’s the difference between them all? Let’s find out.

Regular Toothpaste

Almost all of your ordinary, run-of-the-mill toothpaste is trying to do two things: remove plaque and prevent cavities. Plaque is removed by including a mild abrasive in toothpaste; there’s a variety of different types of abrasive agents that might be used, but functionally they’re all doing the same thing, to about the same degree of success. Cavities are prevented by using fluoride. All the other differences are purely cosmetic; how it tastes, how it’s all held together, how it’s packaged. In other words, if you’re just looking for a regular toothpaste, and you don’t care how it tastes – buy what’s on sale! It’s all pretty much the same stuff.

Antibacterial Toothpaste

These toothpastes contain antibacterial ingredients, such as triclosan. The goal is to reduce cavities. Bacteria cause cavities by eating the sugar in your mouth and creating acid which wears away at tooth enamel. Triclosan has promising effects on the level of harmful bacteria in your mouth; combining antibacterial toothpaste with mouthwash may also yield positive results. The jury is out, however, on whether or not this yields a substantial decrease in the number of cavities users will get. Add to that the fear that too many antibacterial products is creating a rise in superbugs, and it’s safe to conclude that antibacterial toothpaste isn’t a must, unless your dentist recommends it.

Teeth Whitening Toothpaste

Teeth whitening toothpaste doesn’t contain some magical whitening chemical, and they don’t contain bleach; rather, these toothpastes simply have a higher percentage of abrasive agent. In other words, they simply wear away more quickly at the surface of the tooth; good for getting rid of stains. The problem is that abrasive agents don’t distinguish between stains and enamel, so you can get into situations where you’ve overbrushed, and your teeth become sensitive, more easily.

Sensitive Toothpaste

Toothpaste for sensitive teeth works by alleviating the symptoms of tooth pain; they don’t address the underlying issues any better than any other type of toothpaste. That said, they are effective at reducing pain, usually by blocking nerves in the tooth from firing, often by the use of potassium nitrate. Toothpaste for sensitivity is among the less controversial offshoots of regular toothpaste; they have been shown rather conclusively to stop you from feeling as much pain. That said, blocking the symptoms doesn’t stop the problem; when you’re getting a teeth cleaning in Winnipeg, and you’ve been experiencing sensitivity, talk to your dentist.