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Is Toothpaste a Waste of Money?

Brushing with toothpaste is more effective.

A rash of health care articles in recent issues of popular men's and women's magazines has investigated the following question: Is toothpaste a waste of money?

The answer, according to dentists and researchers interviewed, is that you generally can brush your teeth with just plain water if you want, but you might be doing yourself a disservice without paste.

"It's true that the brushing action, not the paste itself, removes the debris and cleans the teeth, though brushing with water does not get teeth cleaner than brushing with toothpaste," says Aloysius F. Kleszynski, D.D.S., a general dentist and president of the Chicago Dental Society. "Toothpaste offers several advantages. The most important is that if you use a paste containing fluoride, you get proven protection against cavities. That alone makes toothpaste worth the money."

Toothpaste contains mild abrasives that may help with cleaning and allow the sudsing agents to carry away debris. Colgate's Total® contains an antibacterial agent -- triclosan -- that has been shown in clinical trials to reduce gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease.

"Toothpaste generally has a good flavor and makes your mouth feel clean, so it serves as an important motivator, particularly for children," says Dr. Kleszynski.

Some patients, he notes, use baking soda instead of toothpaste. "Baking soda cleans effectively and you can save money by using it," says Dr. Kleszynki. "But in that case, you should add a fluoride rinse to your brushing routine -- so if you are going to buy a fluoride rinse, you probably should just go ahead and buy fluoridated toothpaste. Also, look for a toothpaste that features the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance which means the product has been rigorously tested to determine its safety and effectiveness."

Dr. Kleszynski says that going without toothpaste sounds a bit "spartan." "As a dentist, I would strongly recommend that my patients use toothpaste," he concludes. "It's a wise investment if you want your teeth to last a lifetime."

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