MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It may be the most overwhelming aisle of your local store: 352 distinct types or sizes of toothpaste are currently on the market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Americans spent $1.6 billion on toothpaste last year, and many of those products had specialized claims about enhanced performance. But does whitening toothpaste really whiten your teeth?

“No, it removes stains,” said Lisa Ahmann, a clinical assistant professor of dental hygiene at University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

She said whitening toothpastes have a peroxide that helps whiten teeth and a stronger abrasive than regular toothpaste.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), all toothpastes help remove surface stain through the action of mild abrasives. But “’whitening’ toothpastes in the ADA Seal of Acceptance program have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness.”

These are not bleaches, however, and they do not change the color of teeth. Whitening toothpastes will have ingredients like calcium peroxide, which to help whiten your teeth by removing stains.

But there is a new product, from Colgate called Optic White. It promises whiter teeth in one week.

“That has hydrogen peroxide, that’s the same stuff in whitening trays,” Ahmann said.

But products like whitening strips and professional whitening gels stay in contact with teeth for hours. Independent dentists are still researching how effective hydrogen peroxide is in toothpaste.

So what about tartar control? — another huge category that is often misunderstood in toothpaste.

“It doesn’t remove existing tartar, but it can break up the pellicle the tartar attaches to,” Ahmann said.

Various ingredients get the job done, including chemical compounds like pyrophosphates and zinc citrate. Some tartar control toothpastes contain an antibiotic called triclosan, which kills some of the bacteria in the mouth.

“They work,” Ahmann says.

The ADA offers a seal of approval for more than 50 different toothpastes; Ahmann said the seal lets you know the claims meet a minimum standard.

“It’s a ton of testing and you have to retest to maintain the seal,” she said.

Not having the seal doesn’t mean the claims are untrue, it might mean the manufacturer decided to not try to get the seal.

When it comes to the biggest factor in toothpaste, as far as dental health is concerned, Ahmann didn’t hesitate to answer: brushing.

“You don’t even need to use a toothpaste if you brush your teeth,” she said, arguing that simply water alone will get the job done for most people.

Jason DeRusha

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