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The Truth About Toothpaste Claims to Treat Sensitivity & Erosion

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health & Sex Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist, adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling...

Is your anti-sensitivity toothpaste doing more harm than good?

Walk down the dental care aisle at any pharmacy or grocery store, and you'll be faced with seemingly endless toothpaste options that claim to help protect, whiten, strengthen and desensitize your teeth. Even just 20 years ago, toothpaste's primary functions were to clean your teeth and, in some cases, help protect them from cavities.

While the toothpastes of today still do the same things, now they're sold as magical tubes of treatment that can help solve more complicated dental problems, like sensitivity and enamel erosion. On the surface, this seems like some serious advancement, but a new study out of the University of Bern in Switzerland found that not all toothpastes live up to the claims on their packaging.

Researchers tested nine popular toothpastes and found that none of them protect enamel or prevent erosive wear — key factors in the root causes of dental sensitivity. Not only that, but the article, published in Scientific Reports, said that all of the tested toothpastes actually caused different amounts of enamel surface loss.

More: Dietary Habits Important for Dental Health

But to be clear, those involved with the study aren't suggesting you stop using toothpaste and stress that it does perform important functions like cleaning, but that they shouldn't be considered a type of treatment for enamel loss or hypersensitivity. Instead, they said you should see your dentist to come up with a plan for managing these conditions.

“Toothpaste won’t solve the problem completely. Dental erosion is multifactorial. It has to do with brushing, and above all, with diet. Food and drink are increasingly acidic as a result of industrial processing,” Samira Helena João-Souza, a Ph.D. scholar at the University of São Paulo’s School of Dentistry in Brazil and first author of the article, said in a statement.

Enamel erosion is a chronic loss of the hard tissue on the outside of your teeth caused by acid without bacterial involvement, which can be exacerbated by rough brushing, speeding up the erosion. When the erosion is concentrated in the area between the tooth and the gum, it is likely to cause discomfort when the person eats or drinks something hot or cold or sweet. Researchers found that when people go to the dentist because of hypersensitivity, it is typically because they had been brushing improperly with an abrasive toothpaste as well as consuming large amounts of acidic foods and beverages.

More: A Guide to Your Child's Dental Health

So, what can you do if you have sensitive teeth? Your first step, according to the researchers, should be to reexamine your diet — including beverages — and limit the amount of acid you're consuming. Also, talk to your dentist about possible treatments instead of relying solely on toothpastes that claim to be able to treat your symptoms. And don't forget to brush — just make sure to do it gently.

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