If you read the back of your toothpaste packaging, you might see a couple of active ingredients listed. Most toothpastes have sodium fluoride listed on the back as an anti-cavity agent, but yours might say potassium fluoride instead. Don't worry: both are ingredients that help your teeth stay healthy. Still, understanding how these ingredients affect your oral health can give you the power to make better decisions when standing in the toothpaste aisle.
The History of the Ingredient
The use of fluoride as a method of cavity prevention is an old practice. In fact, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, cities have been adding fluoride to their water supply for dental health reasons since Grand Rapids, Michigan made the move in 1945. Sodium fluoride, which, according to the Dental Assisting: Comprehensive Approach, is less expensive than potassium fluoride. That's why it is used more frequently in oral hygiene products. Not only is sodium fluoride less expensive, but it's also less hygroscopic (meaning that it attracts less moisture from the air when compared to potassium fluoride).
Potassium vs. Sodium Fluoride
Potassium and sodium fluoride have the same purpose: to protect teeth from cavities. The American Dental Association points out the fluoride compounds work by strengthening teeth enamel and protecting the areas where acid is likely to erode teeth. There isn't much difference in the way sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride affect the teeth, because fluoride is the mineral doing most of the work in the compound.
Don't confuse potassium fluoride with potassium nitrate. Although they start with the same mineral, they have different uses. Fluoride is used to prevent tooth decay. When potassium is bonded with nitrate, the potassium becomes a highly effective desensitizing agent. According to a report published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, potassium nitrate works by penetrating tooth enamel. The potassium ions have a sedative effect on the nerves in your teeth, resulting in less sensitivity. It's a common ingredient in toothpastes designed for sensitive teeth and is often prescribed by dentists for those who suffer from pain when eating hot or cold foods, or who experience pain with teeth whitening.
If you simply need a toothpaste to protect against cavities, Colgate Enamel Health Flouride toothpaste fights cavities and helps build increasing protection against sensitivity. A product that contains a fluoride compound will do the trick, regardless if it's sodium or potassium. If you struggle with tooth sensitivity, however, look for a product that lists potassium nitrate as one of the ingredients.
Devising the best at-home oral hygiene routine may seem difficult. There are so many options, flashy packages and labels with long ingredient lists to sift through. First, it's important to have a strong foundation: brush twice daily and floss. Next, know which ingredients are tailored to your teeth's specific needs. Pretty much everyone should be focused on cavity prevention, so seek products that contain some type of fluoride.
With the facts in hand, you can be confident that you're making the best choices to achieve a healthy smile.