Picking the Proper Toothpaste is More Painful Than a Root Canal


It was 20 Years Ago Today (almost) … Here’s my More Stuff column from April 5, 1998:

If you’re anything at all like me, you brush your teeth.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Buying toothpaste.

The choices are mind boggling, and selecting the right toothpaste is more complicated than filling out your income tax forms.

Do I want one with baking soda? One with extra tartar protection? Or one that will make my smile dazzle?

And so, I called my dentist, Dr. Richard Bash (and yes, my dentist’s name really is Bash) and asked him to go toothpaste shopping with me.

“No problem, that sounds like fun,” he said.

And that’s how Rich and I came to be standing in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket.


We began with the Crest section, which offers the following choices: Sensitivity Protection, Gum Care, Tartar Protection (which comes in smooth mint gel, mint paste with baking soda, fresh mint gel and regular), Cavity Protection (mint paste with baking soda, icy mint and regular), Multi-Care (cool mint and fresh mint – as if anyone could tell the damn difference!) and Extra Whitening.

Whew. And help, which is where Rich comes in…

“The Sensitivity Protection has 5 percent potassium nitrate,” he began, taking a deep breath (which was quite minty fresh). “When you have sensitive teeth, the gums are exposed, and the potassium nitrate prevents them from getting excited … The Gum Care has stannous fluoride, which is more of an antibacterial agent than sodium fluoride (the fluoride found in most toothpastes) and prohibits the growth of bacteria that causes gum disease … The Tartar Protection has pyrophosphate. When tartar forms, it’s tenacious. And this helps prevent the formation by inhibiting the matrix formation.”

I have no idea what a matrix formation is (and the Matrix movies with Keanu didn’t start until 1999), but sure as heck don’t want any on my teeth. Not even the back ones. It’s tenacious.

“The Cavity Protection has sodium fluoride,” Rich continued. “The Multi-Care has sodium fluoride for cavities, baking soda, which helps adjust the Ph levels in your mouth and makes it inhospitable for germs, pyrophosphate for tartar control, but it doesn’t have stannous fluoride for fighting gum disease. And, the Extra Whitening has silica, a polishing agent.”

Rich let out a sigh of relief and collapsed to the floor.

But wait, there’s the Colgate section. Come on Rich, get up.

Here we go for Colgate: Total, Baking Soda & Peroxide Clean Mint, Baking Soda and Peroxide Fresh Mint, Tartar Control with Micro-Cleaning Crystals (even Rich didn’t know what these were), Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening, Regular Cavity Protection, Tartar Control Plus Whitening, Cavity Protection Gel-Winterfresh and, finally, Baking Soda-Natural Mint Flavor.

But wait, there’s still my old favorite: Aquafresh. I love the way the separate red, green and white swirl together in perfect harmony on my toothbrush. How do they do it?

And yet, after all this, I was still no closer to an answer to my all-important question: Which toothpaste should I buy?

“Steve, let me tell you a story,” Rich began. There’s no stopping Rich once he starts storytelling … and drilling. I was hoping his story would be less painful.

“One day in dental school, a teacher walked into class with a glass of water, a bar of Ivory soap and a toothbrush and proceeded to brush his teeth with them. Then he told us, ‘It doesn’t matter what toothpaste you use, as long as you brush your teeth properly.’”

“Oh no!” I shouted. “Rich, there are as many different kinds of toothbrushes as there are toothpaste. Which one do I get?”

I’ll get to this all-important question in another column.

PS: It’s 20 years later and even more confusing to select the proper toothpaste. 

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