All’s well when you brush right.

Toothpastes otherwise known as dentifrices are combinations of an abrasive material and flavouring agent bound together as a cohesive mass. Used in conjunction with a toothbrush they are useful for cleaning the surfaces of teeth efficiently. They also control the formation of stains.

Toothpastes contain surfactants (surface active agents which cause foaming), humectants (which prevents it from drying), and other therapeutic agents.

Therapeutic agents most often included in toothpastes are caries-preventing agent such as fluoride, antibacterial agents such as triclosan, agents to prevent bad breath such as zinc citrate and also pyrophosphate which prevents tartar formation on the teeth. There is also a large number of desensitising toothpastes available in the market. These help reduce troublesome sensitivity of the teeth although there is an increasing tendency by the public at large to use them indiscriminately without addressing the basic cause of the problem.

Children can be initiated into brushing their teeth with toothpaste from the age of three, under parental supervision after they have learned to expectorate. Only pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be dispensed onto the brush. When the right quantity is used, toothpastes containing fluoride is the least expensive, most convenient and the most effective mode of preventing dental decay.

Teeth become sensitive due to a variety of reasons. These include abrasion of enamel and receding gums caused by excessive brushing using hard bristles and also erosion of enamel and dentin caused by acidic beverages. Dental decay involving the dentin also causes sensitivity. In all these instances, exposure of underlying dentine leads to sensitive teeth.

Some people prefer to use dentifrices containing natural products which are free of chemicals.

All toothpastes rely on mild abrasion to remove surface stain. Whitening toothpastes have peroxides (bleaching agent) and stronger abrasives (polishing agents) that provide additional stain removal and whitening.

It should be borne in mind that in maintenance of oral hygiene the role of toothpastes is only 10-15 per cent, and that it is the toothbrush and the technique of brushing that is important. For prevention of dental decay select a toothpaste which releases about 1000ppm of fluoride (this information is labelled on the pack).

For children, pastes should release only 450-500ppm of fluoride.

Pastes containing triclosan and zinc salts help to prevent gum infection and bad breath.

For teeth with surface stains caused by beverages and tobacco, whitening toothpastes could be beneficial.

Desensitising toothpastes should be used as a stop-gap arrangement till a lasting solution is found.

Finally, since toothpastes serve as a motivating factor, the best toothpaste for you is the one you relish most in terms of taste, flavour and foaming.