What's in a toothpaste? After all, short of specialty teeth-whitening gel, most pastes beat back bad breath in more or less the same way, right? Wrong! Not only do many common toothpaste varieties fall short when it comes to halitosis, but some also may do harm to your enamel and pave the way for bacterial invasion.
You can learn as much by reading the box of nearly any paste or toothpaste variety in your local grocery store. Most of these products, especially those that purportedly whiten your teeth, include a federally mandated label noting the risk of tooth staining.
This warning is included because of a compound called stannous fluoride. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration legally requires that any toothpaste containing this chemical must include the following sentence on its packaging: "This product may produce surface staining of the teeth."
For any typical whitening paste or gel, that sentence is a deal-breaker. After all, what is a whitening product for if it ends up freshening your breath while staining your teeth brown or gray? A better solution may be to consider using a specialty toothpaste that contains natural compounds combined in a way that specifically targets the bacteria that cause bad breath.
So here's what to look for in a toothpaste:
Effective breath-freshening ingredients include zinc, chlorhexidine, aloe vera, xylitol and sodium fluoride (a non-staining version of stannous fluoride). Each of these substances neutralizes oral odor molecules, improves the thickness of your dental enamel, kills bacteria or removes stains from teeth.
Avoid toothpastes that contain stannous fluoride, saccharin or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), as these ingredients can stain teeth, feed bacteria or, in the case of SLS, increase your risk of canker sores.
Also, considering staying away from toothpastes containing benzalkonium chloride, as it is a known allergen.