Pop quiz: What do you need in order to clean your teeth thoroughly and effectively?
If your answer included “toothpaste,” you might be a little bit wrong. Or at least not entirely right.
Believe it or don’t, but there’s actually some argument as to whether toothpaste helps clean teeth. Consider, for instance, a study published a few years back in the Indian Journal of Dental Research. Not only did its authors find that toothpaste didn’t help remove plaque but that it might actually interfere with the process. While toothpaste users reduced plaque by about 57%, non-toothpaste users reduced 9% more.
Yet toothpaste has other purposes. For one, the taste can be refreshing and actually provide a little extra incentive to brush. It can also provide a way of applying essential oils such as clove, thyme, tea tree and peppermint (to name but a few) that can keep oral pathogens – “bad” bacteria and other microbes – in check. Likewise, it can deliver compounds such as theobromine, which can help the teeth remineralize more effectively – more so than fluoride, and more safely, as well.
For the simple sake of breaking up dental biofilm (plaque), though, it’s the mechanical action of brushing that really counts. At most, as we’ve noted before, toothpaste can provide a little extra grit to help in the process.
As for the other answers to the quiz? A toothbrush (natch), floss (or a proxy brush or oral irrigator to clean between the teeth), good technique, and making good hygiene a habit.
(And in case you’re wondering if there’s a best type of brush, see this and this.)
Image by Greg Foster