Toothpaste is a general household product each and every Ghanaian has in their home. It is hard to come across a TV commercial that does not depict the classic wave-shaped blob of toothpaste covering the entire brushing surface of a toothbrush. But is that really the appropriate amount we should all be using? Besides, as you squeeze that tube of toothpaste on your toothbrush twice daily, have you wondered its composition and its uses?
Toothpaste, also known as dentifrice, is a pharmaceutical compound used with a toothbrush for cleaning and polishing the teeth according to the Mosby’s Medical Dictionary. It is the French word for toothpaste which translates as “dens” which means tooth and “fricare” which means “to rub.” They are in the form of pastes, gels, or powders and help remove plaque, a film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums.
Since their introduction several years ago, toothpaste formulations have evolved considerably; from suspensions of crushed eggshells or ashes to complex formulations with over 20 ingredients depending on the brand you use. The main ingredients of a tube of toothpaste are water, abrasives, fluoride, detergents, antibacterial agents, flavourants, humectants, anti-sensitivity agents, anti-calculus agents, remineralizers, etc. which all help to improve our oral hygiene. A study I carried out in 2016 on factors affecting the choice of toothpaste amongst patients visiting the dental department of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital(KATH) revealed that the main category of toothpaste that respondents looked out for was fluoride-containing toothpastes. Dentists like myself advocate for fluoride in toothpastes because it aids in the protection of the outer layer of the teeth (enamel) against harmful acid-producing bacteria in our mouths. These bacteria cause tooth decay.
However, toothpaste should be used in moderation. Being exposed to too much fluoride during childhood when permanent teeth are being formed can lead to dental fluorosis, a condition characterized by discoloration or spots on the enamel. Teens, adults, and children always want to keep their pearly whites sparkling and free of cavities(tooth decay) so they use a generous amount of toothpaste every time they brush. Some even squeeze so much toothpaste on their toothbrush as though they were putting icing on a cake. Sure, that might be the way advertisers market their products on Ghanaian television and billboards, but you don’t need nearly that much toothpaste.
For children under the age of 6 years, the appropriate amount of toothpaste to use is the size of a grain of rice. That way, if it is accidentally swallowed, it will not be enough to cause a stomach upset or issues with tooth development. Children older than 6 years and teens are advised to use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste to brush. There is no harm if adults use more toothpaste than recommended, but the liberal use of toothpaste ends up being spat out into the sink. Experts point out that a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste should be sufficient for an adult’s session of brushing. A large blob of toothpaste will produce too much foam, making it hard to brush correctly and to do so for the right amount of time (2-3 minutes).
In conclusion, fluoride is an important component in toothpaste, and we should always look out for it in the ingredients section whenever we decide to switch brands of toothpastes. We should also use toothpaste in moderation to avoid wastage generally, and also to avoid accidental swallowing in children under the age of 6 years resulting in fluorosis.
AUTHOR: DR MICHAEL AWUA-MENSAH