How do I choose which dental care products to buy?

With so many dental care products on the market, how do you decide which to use? Here is some general information on the basics: toothpastes, toothbrushes, mouthwashes and rinses.

Toothpaste basics

  • Buy a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Toothpastes containing fluoride have been shown to prevent cavities. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends fluoride toothpaste for all ages. For children under 6, the ADA gives specific guidelines on the amount of toothpaste to use (smear or grain of rice-size, rather than pea-sized) to prevent swallowing.
  • Check the package label to make sure the toothpaste is approved by the ADA. The ADA’s Seal of Acceptance means that the product has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness, and that packaging and advertising claims are scientifically supported. Some manufacturers choose not to seek the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance. Although these products might be safe and effective, their performance has not been studied or endorsed by the ADA.
  • If tartar buildup is a problem, look for tartar control brands of toothpaste. If your teeth are sensitive to hot, cold or sweets, buy desensitizing toothpaste brands.
  • Choose toothpastes in the form and flavor you like. Gels or pastes, or wintergreen or spearmint flavors all work the same.
  • Change toothpaste if certain toothpaste ingredients irritate your teeth, cheeks or lips, if your teeth have become more sensitive or if your mouth gets irritated after brushing. If the problem continues, see your dentist. Keep in mind that your oral health changes with age, so your toothpaste choice may need to change too.
  • Ask your dentist or hygienist, who are familiar with your dental needs.

Manual toothbrushes

  • Both adults and children should use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Harder bristles might cause gum tissue to pull back (recede) from teeth, exposing the tooth root. The result can be sensitivity to hot, cold and sweet foods and beverages. Most important, receding gum tissue can lead to tooth loss.
  • Select a toothbrush head size that can easily fit into your mouth and can brush one to two teeth at a time. Choose a toothbrush with a very small head for a very young child or infant.
  • Toothbrushes should be replaced about every four months, or earlier, when the bristles begin to look worn or frayed. (Bristles that fan out or spread is one sign of wear.)
  • Ask your dentist or hygienist if you need help choosing a toothbrush that best meets your unique needs.

Powered toothbrushes

An advantage of powered (electric or sonic) toothbrushes is that they provide a consistent brushing technique. Powered toothbrushes can:

  • Ease the chore of tooth brushing in people with limited ability to move their arms and hands. Those with arthritis, are elderly or physically handicapped, or have oral conditions (such as misaligned teeth or teeth with uneven surfaces) have a difficult time with thorough cleaning of all tooth surfaces.
  • Ease the chore of tooth brushing in those with orthodontic appliances (such as bands, brackets and wires).
  • Motivate those who don’t brush their teeth regularly. These toothbrushes may be fun to use and are more effective with built-in timers that indicate when teeth have been brushed long enough.
  • Improve the fight against gum disease. Studies have shown that long-term (four to six months) use of powered toothbrushes significantly reduced the amount of dental plaque on the teeth -- and therefore improves the oral health -- of patients with periodontal disease.
  • Reduce or eliminate tooth staining. The scrubbing effect of powered toothbrushes might be better than manual toothbrushes in possibly reducing or even totally removing surface stains on teeth.

The key to good oral hygiene is the correct and effective use of a toothbrush rather than simply an issue of powered versus manual operation.

Water flossing or irrigating devices

Water flossing or irrigating devices (such as Waterpik®) are most helpful in removing food between teeth in:

  • People who wear braces or other orthodontic appliances
  • People who have an extremely dry mouth – such as those with head and neck cancers
  • People with periodontal disease

Water flossers do not remove plaque. Only tooth brushing with toothpaste and regular string flossing can do that.

Mouthwashes

Mouthwashes simply freshen breath; they do not clean teeth. Most of these products contain alcohol and are not appropriate for children under age 6 because they can swallow it.

Fluoride mouth rinses

Fluoride mouth rinses coat the teeth with cavity-preventing fluoride. These rinses are typically recommended for cavity-prone individuals and can be used in children as young as seven if they know how to spit out a liquid instead of swallowing it. Ask your dentist or hygienist to recommend the type of rinse that would be best for you.

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