You know that brushing your teeth is a must for maintaining a healthy smile, but how much do you actually know about your toothpaste? Find out what’s true — and what’s not — so that you can keep your teeth in mint condition.
1. Myth: Only kids need fluoride.
Reality: Experts used to think that fluoride only strengthened teeth while they were developing, but “studies now show that topical fluoride — the kind in toothpastes, mouth rinses, and fluoride treatment — helps fight decay in people of all ages,” says Marc Lowenberg, DDS, a dentist at Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York City.
What’s more, it may be even more important to use fluoride toothpaste as you age. “Our own saliva contains fluoride, and as we get older, many of us have decreased salivary flow due to medications or medical conditions,” which places you at higher risk for tooth decay, says Anoosheh Shahkarami, DDS, a dentist at SoCal Smiles in Tarzana, California. Fluoride works by re-mineralizing areas of the teeth where there’s been acid damage, explains Shahkarami. Try Hello’s line of fluoride toothpastes, which come in unique flavors like mojito mint and grapefruit mint.
2. Myth: Microbeads provide a deeper clean.
Reality: While microbeads may provide some extra scrubbing action, “it’s a marketing gimmick,” says Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and co-founder of The Beauty Brains blog. “People believe that it’s getting their teeth cleaner, but you would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that in any kind of evaluation of a toothpaste containing polyethylene versus one without.” Gentle abrasives commonly found in toothpastes include magnesium carbonate, dehydrated silica gels, and calcium carbonate. Crest announced it would be removing microbeads from its 3D White and Pro-Health toothpastes by March 2016 after a Dallas-based dental hygienist said she found blue particles in her patients’ mouths during cleanings.
3. Myth: You can get a whiter smile with toothpaste.
Reality: Whitening toothpastes — most of which contain a small amount of hydrogen peroxide — aren’t strong enough to whiten your smile alone, says Lowenberg. “They must be used in conjunction with other at-home products or as a follow up to an in-office whitening treatment,” he says. “Whitening toothpastes only really work in the sense that they can remove surface stains; [they’re] not a delivery system that penetrates the enamel because they are not in contact with the tooth long enough for visible results.”
4. Myth: A dab of toothpaste clears up zits.
Reality: Toothpaste can dry out a zit, but certain ingredients can actually cause skin irritation, says Jeannette Graf, MD, a New York dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Fluoride is classified as a skin irritant and sodium lauryl sulfate is irritating, as are many detergents,” she explains. There are plenty of great over-the-counter spot treatments available at the drugstore, says Graf, so use a product specifically formulated for skin the next time you break out. Look for one with salicylic acid, like Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Treatment Gel ($6.99), which quickly penetrates pores to help clear up pimples.