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Updated: 11 May 2022

Toothpaste claims unpicked: is it worth paying more?

We asked dental experts to examine claims on toothpastes from brands including Colgate, LA Pacific, Oral B and Sensodyne

Toothpaste brands are constantly bringing out new formulas that make big promises for our dental hygiene, and you might have noticed increasingly high price tags too, with some toothpastes costing up to £20 a tube.

But is it really worth splashing out on a premium paste when you can buy standard toothpaste for around £1?

We asked a panel of dental experts to examine the evidence behind claims on six premium toothpastes and give their verdict on when it's worth spending more. 

Our research found that, while claims were generally supported, the overall benefits of expensive formulations may only be marginal.

Some products or ingredients do make a difference, but it depends on the dental issue you are trying to address. If you've got sensitive teeth, for example, there's good evidence that certain ingredients can target the pain and these aren’t always in basic fluoride toothpastes.

But there are also plenty of marketing claims, such as ‘strengthens enamel’ and ‘prevents decay’, that are redundant because all fluoride toothpastes, regardless of price, will do these things. 

Find out what to look for, and the marketing jargon to take with a pinch of salt, below.


How to choose the right toothpaste - which ingredients really work, and what to consider before you buy


Toothpaste claims vs reality

Colgate Elixir White Restore (£12/80ml)

Claims

  • ‘Advanced stain fighter technology’
  • 'Removes three times more surface stains vs regular fluoride toothpaste’

Expert verdict

Stain removal should be reasonable with this toothpaste (better than regular fluoride toothpaste), thanks to abrasives such as silica, and surfactants (foaming agents) including sodium lauryl sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine, plus the addition of phosphates for tartar reduction.

But, you can find the same or similarly effective stain-removal ingredients in cheaper products too.

Colgate told us its studies on Elixir White are confidential so it was unable to provide us with any specific evidence to show it's better than other whitening toothpastes.

It’s worth noting that toothpastes cannot truly ‘whiten’ teeth. The level of bleaching agents they are allowed to contain is too tiny to make a difference. Instead, most contain ingredients to remove surface level discolouration (e.g. coffee or wine stains) to restore the natural colour of teeth (which is closer to cream, not bright white).

Colgate Gum Invigorate (£3.99/75ml)

Claims

  • ‘Firmly protects teeth'
  • 'Reduces bacteria along the gum line'
  • 'Invigorates gums’

Expert verdict

Colgate said evidence for this formulation was also commercially sensitive, but there is evidence that the zinc oxide and zinc citrate combination used has antibacterial properties, which our experts said should give this product advantages in reducing gum inflammation vs basic fluoride toothpastes.

Eugenol and ginseng root extract may have antibacterial properties that help reduce gum swelling or bleeding, but we didn’t see robust evidence about their concentration or action in this specific toothpaste.

‘Invigorates gums’ is a vague claim and we weren’t given evidence to explain what it's referring to. As for 'protecting' teeth, this product will do that in a similar way to a basic fluoride toothpaste.

It's important to be aware of the limits here. Toothpaste can only really treat mild to moderate gum inflammation, beyond which further treatment would be needed under the direction of a dentist.

Oral-B Sensitivity and Gum Calm Gentle Whitening Toothpaste (£5/75ml)

Claims

  • ‘Immediately relieves sensitivity'
  • 'Soothes gums'
  • 'Provides intense comfort'
  • 'Whitening’

Expert verdict

The evidence Oral-B provided shows this toothpaste includes proven ingredients for relieving sensitivity and reducing gum inflammation (stannous fluoride, stannous chloride and sodium citrate), plus stain removal (sodium lauryl sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine).

‘Soothes gums’ may be a red herring, as gum inflammation is not usually painful unless it’s severe, in which case you’d need more treatment than this product.

Oral-B said a carboxamide based coolant in the paste creates a cooling sensation (to soothe and comfort, presumably) - though it didn't say which ingredient this is.

‘Intense comfort’ is a vague and subjective claim that's difficult to prove one way or the other. Nevertheless, our experts said this could be a good all-rounder if you have sensitive teeth.

Sensodyne Repair and Protect - Deep Repair (£5.50/75ml)

Claims

  • 'Sensitivity relief'
  • 'Deep repair'
  • 'Long lasting protection’

Expert verdict

There is good evidence that this toothpaste will help with sensitivity compared to a basic fluoride toothpaste without added ingredients.

Sensodyne’s proprietary active ingredient 'Novamin' (calcium sodium phosphosilicate) forms a crystal layer on the surface of the dentine (hard tissue under the enamel that is the bulk of the tooth) and within dentine tubules - this effect is supported in clinical studies.

The effect can be said to be long-lasting if used daily, as the crystals aren’t easily removed.

'Deep repair' appears to be a marketing term; our experts said there wasn’t any clinical (rather than lab-based) evidence to support it. Sensodyne says this term refers to the protective layer formed over the surface of the teeth, which has been shown in lab studies.

LA Pacific Gum Health Whitening Enzyme Toothpaste (£12/75ml)

Claims

  • ‘Whiter teeth in 60 seconds'
  • 'Invigorates gum tissue'
  • 'Brightens’

Expert verdict

Based on the evidence given by LA Pacific, stain removal using this toothpaste would be better than basic fluoride toothpaste, but the claim it can ‘brighten’ teeth with ‘natural bleach’ might be overstating things.

Our experts doubted the concentration of bleaching enzymes possible in an over-the-counter toothpaste could offer a clinical effect - this is the same for any whitening toothpaste.

There isn’t enough clinical evidence to support cannabidiol, aloe vera, or vitamin E for gum health, and as with Colgate's gum toothpaste, ‘invigorate gums’ is not a scientifically meaningful phrase.

LA Pacific's toothpaste is one of the more expensive products we saw – perhaps to do with its marketing as an ‘oral beauty’ product – but neither the company’s evidence nor general evidence for the specified ingredients shows clear advantages over other whitening toothpastes.

Zendium Classic Toothpaste (£4.80/75ml)

Claims

  • Boosts good bacteria and reduces bad bacteria to help fight the causes of cavities and gum problems

Expert verdict

Zendium gave us evidence from clinical studies that support the combination of antibacterial enzymes in this toothpaste (amyloglucosidase, lysozyme, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase and lactoferrin) for plaque control and to reduce gum inflammation and bleeding.

Our experts said there would be benefit to using this over a basic fluoride toothpaste for mild to moderate gum inflammation, but that it's probably not so different to standard fluoride toothpaste for cavity protection.

It doesn’t contain SLS (sodium lauryth sulfate , a surfactant), which Zendium claims makes it more suitable for ‘vulnerable’ mouths. Evidence for this is mixed; SLS may irritate some, but is mostly well tolerated.

Zendium's marketing based on oral bacteria and enzymes instead of minerals is unique, but again, while it will be better than conventional toothpastes at reducing gingivitis, cavity protection should be similar.


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Proven toothpaste ingredients to look out for on cheaper products

Cheaper toothpastes may not make fancy claims or have bold packaging design, but if you know the key ingredients to look out for you should be able to snag a bargain that also meets your needs.

If you don't have any particular dental issues, a standard fluoride toothpaste will do the job just fine. 

Whitening

Hydrated silica and calcium carbonate are mild abrasives that work to remove surface stains on teeth, while pyrophosphates can reduce calculus and tartar formation.

Hydrogen peroxide (a bleaching agent) is commonly used in whitening toothpastes, but it's a bit of a red herring as the legal limit for over-the-counter toothpastes is too low to actually affect the colour of your teeth.

For serious whitening (aka a celebrity-level 'Hollywood smile'), you need to get professional bleaching treatment. Beware of attempting to DIY it and buying whitening products online - in an investigation earlier in 2022 we found some that contained dangerous levels of hydrogen peroxide.

Gum health

Glucose oxidase and zinc are antibacterial agents that help with mild to moderate gum disease, stannous fluoride and stannous chloride can reduce toxins that cause inflammation.

Toothpaste alone isn't a magic solution though. Proper brushing technique and interdental cleaning are also vitally important for good gum health.

Sensitivity

Arginine, stannous fluoride, potassium nitrate, and Sensodyne's Novamin all have proven sensitivity-reduction properties.

Where to buy cheap toothpaste 

Pharmacy own-brand, supermarkets and discount stores usually have basic fluoride toothpaste - and in some cases cheap whitening / sensitive / gum options - for around £1. 

Watch out for differing pack sizes when comparing across brands. It's also worth looking out for multi-buy or half-price offers on branded options, as they tend to cycle on and off deals regularly.


Prices correct as of 5 May 2022. Our expert panel was: Professor Nicola West, Professor in Restorative Dentistry at Bristol Dental School, Director of Clinical Trials Unit. Derek Richards, Dental public health consultant and former editor of the Evidence-Based Dentistry journal. Professor David Bartlett, Head of the Centre for Oral, Clinical & Translational Science and Prosthodontics at King's College London.