Money Down the Drain

by Dr. Eric Spieler


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In the war to win consumers' dollars, advertisers bombard us with messages claiming that their products will make our teeth and gums cleaner, brighter, and healthier. While sometimes true, often these advertising statements serve only to influence us into buying products with little or no benefit.

Just about everyone wastes money when it comes to purchasing and using toothpaste. We usually use two to three times as much toothpaste as is necessary. Some dentists advise that a pea size drop of toothpaste is sufficient to clean teeth and gums. Others suggest that you use enough toothpaste to just cover the toothbrush bristles with a thin flat layer of toothpaste. Both amounts, however, are far less than what most people use. It seems that over our lifetimes we have been conditioned into thinking that the amounts of toothpaste we see in ads is the amount needed for good oral health.

We also tend to waste money when we buy expensive toothpastes containing ingredients which we are led to believe will result in cleaner teeth. Often, however, these ingredients don't result in cleaner teeth but just the sensation of cleaner teeth. Baking soda found in many expensive toothpastes is a prime example. Although it may make our mouth feel clean, a Journal of the American Dental Association study revealed that baking soda is no more effective in cleaning teeth than normal toothpaste.

Another much hyped toothpaste ingredient is peroxide. Peroxide creates small bubbles in the mouth which massage the gums providing a cleaning sensation. While the bubbling action created by peroxide may provide a cleaning sensation it does little to actually clean teeth and gums. The bottom line is that when it comes to toothpaste just about any toothpaste that contains fluoride will do a good job in cleaning our teeth and gums.

Another marketing feat has been performed by our friends in the mouthwash industry. Dentists and hygienists have often questioned the claims of mouthwashes to eliminate bad breath and reduce plaque formation.

Bad breath is caused by bacteria on tooth surfaces which break down food particles left after we eat. One of the by- products of this breakdown is foul smelling sulfur particles. Most mouthwashes do not eliminate bad breath but simply mask odor - usually only very temporarily. In this respect, most conventional mouthwashes are a waste of money.

A new breed of mouthwashes, however, actually helps to eliminate bad breath. Containing the active ingredient chlorine dioxide, these mouthwashes actually destroy foul smelling sulfur compounds. Consequently mouthwashes containing chlorine dioxide may well be worth the money.

What about the ability of mouthwashes to reduce plaque? - Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria, small particles, proteins, and mucous. When not properly removed by brushing and flossing, the bacteria in plaque can multiply and create harmful toxins which attack gum tissue. This is known as gingivitis. Unchecked gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease which is costly and often painful to treat.

Unfortunately, clinical studies have shown that mouthwashes do very little to kill bacteria. There is one exception however. Listerine is the only over the counter mouthwash to have been clinically proven to kill bacteria which cause plaque and gingivitis. In this respect, the product more than lives up to its advertising hype.

Did you know that expensive mints and breath sprays may also be a waste of money ? These help eliminate bad breath by stimulating saliva production ! When it comes to reducing bad breath it seems that saliva is our friend.

Saliva helps dissolve smelly sulfur particles and washes away bacteria and food particles. (One reason for bad morning breath is the lack of saliva production during sleep) Anything that stimulates saliva production can therefore help combat bad breath. Instead of taking a breath mint try a drink of water or eating - both of which stimulate saliva production.

What's one of the best dental products you can buy ? Besides fluoride toothpaste and a good toothbrush one of the best dental buys is dental floss. Relatively inexpensive, the use of dental floss can save hundreds to thousands of dollars in future dental costs. You see by brushing we rid the mouth of bacteria reducing the risk of gingivitis and periodontal disease. We also help ensure that our breath remains fresh smelling.

If we only brush however, we miss the bacteria that reside on tooth surfaces that the toothbrush can not reach. These include the spaces in between teeth. Here bacteria will be allowed to grow uninhibited leading to plaque formation, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth decay. These conditions can be very costly to treat. Flossing removes bacteria in areas the toothbrush cannot reach.

In conclusion don't believe all of the advertising hype. For healthy people, when it comes to good home dental care a simple fluoride toothpaste, a good soft bristle toothbrush, and regular use of dental floss will work wonders.


This article is written by Dr. Eric Spieler - a practicing dentist in Philadelphia, PA and selective faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Visit Dr. Spieler's Dental Zone at SaveYourSmile.com Your online dental health resource. Learn how to eliminate bad breath, whiten teeth, prevent oral ulcers, and much more. Sign up for our free newsletter!

This information is for educational purposes and not intended as delivery of medical care or advice.

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