For strong teeth without cavities, dentists advise brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste. That's because fluoride is extremely effective at strengthening tooth enamel. When bacteria feed on sugars and starches in food, they produce an acidic waste that dissolves the mineral crystals in your tooth enamel. Fluoride in toothpaste replaces the lost minerals with an even stronger crystalline structure.
The types of fluoride commonly used in toothpaste are stannous fluoride and sodium fluoride. Stannous fluoride toothpaste was the first fluoride toothpaste on the market, but nowadays many toothpaste products contain sodium fluoride. Why is that?
Stannous Fluoride: Pros and Cons
A study published by the Archives of Oral Biology compares the efficacy of stannous fluoride toothpaste against a sodium fluoride toothpaste and a control. The researchers conclude that stannous fluoride was the most effective at reducing the biomass and viability of biofilms on teeth. Biofilm is a matrix of bacteria that is present in plaque and forms on the teeth and at the gumline.
However, stannous fluoride can leave stains on teeth and dental appliances, says a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Additionally, it is a tin compound, which may make it taste metallic.
Nowadays, many toothpaste manufacturers prefer to use sodium fluoride in their products to avoid these drawbacks. Sodium fluoride doesn't stain and it tastes better than stannous fluoride. Plus, it's possible to add other ingredients to kill bacteria. For example, the anticavity triclosan is added to Colgate Total toothpastes.
While it is effective, sodium fluoride has not completely replaced stannous fluoride in all products.
New Stannous Fluoride Gels
New formulations of stannous fluoride are available that are more palatable than earlier versions. Stannous fluoride is used in high-strength and prescription fluoride treatments, though as Tufts Dental Health points out, the chemical may still stain teeth.
Colgate Gel-Kam Preventative Treatment Gel is a brush-on fluoride gel that helps prevent cavities and relieve tooth sensitivity. It contains stannous fluoride and is used after brushing and flossing to help strengthen enamel. Adults and children older than 12 should use the gel once per day, and children younger than 12 should only use it as directed by a dentist.
Talk to Your Dentist about Stannous Flouride Gels
Though the small amount of fluoride in toothpaste is good for your teeth, high doses can be harmful. Too much fluoride can make young children nauseous and cause permanent white spots on their developing teeth. Because of this, you should always follow your dental professional's directions and the instructions on the label when using a prescribed stannous fluoride treatment.
Stannous fluoride toothpaste makes teeth stronger and better able to withstand the acids that mouth bacteria produce, but toothpastes that contain sodium fluoride provide an effective alternative. Your dentist can offer the best advice on what toothpaste and other oral care products are right for you and your family. Whichever toothpaste you choose, you must brush your teeth at least twice a day to benefit from the protective effect of fluoride.