We’ve all seen the commercials: “4 out of 5 dentists recommend _______ toothpaste.” The problem is, just about every single toothpaste brand out there says that four out of five dentists recommend their toothpaste. That math doesn’t seem to add up. Are these four dentists going around recommending every toothpaste, willy-nilly? What’s the fine print? Here’s the truth about those toothpaste ads and the kinds of toothpaste that dentists really recommend.

Which four dentists?

When toothpaste advertisements, or advertisements for other products like mouthwashes or whitening strips for that matter, contain the statement “4 out of 5 dentists recommend,” there usually is a disclaimer after an asterisk with tiny print. It says something along the lines of “of dentists sampled.” What this means is that of the dentists that the company asked, four of the five said they would recommend the toothpaste. But this doesn’t tell you how many dentists they asked total, whether the number was an average they rounded up—perhaps from 3.5 dentists—whether the dentists surveyed work for the company, or if they were provided with free products in return for their review.

Companies can manipulate their sample size so that it provides them with the answer they want to advertise, throwing out the rest of the data, which makes it not statistically significant, and not definitive proof of the quality of their toothpaste. “4 out of 5 dentists” statements do not mean that 80 percent of dentists endorse this particular product, but that’s what this phrasing is intended to make customers believe. Also, companies provide dentists with products like toothpaste and toothbrushes—think about the free toothbrush you get every time you see the dentist—for their participation in the survey. Not to mention that the statement doesn’t indicate that dentists recommend this product over other similar products, or exclusively, or that in practice, the dentists mentioned actually recommend it to their patients.

Which toothpaste should I use?

In general, dentists are more likely to specify the type of toothpaste you should use, rather than the exact brand and formula. And these recommendations are, naturally, going to depend on your specific needs.

In general terms, dentists recommend fluoride toothpaste for adults, as fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay. For young children, who are prone to swallowing toothpaste, brushing haphazardly, and disliking strong, burning, mint flavors, there are specifically formulated children’s toothpastes. If you have sensitive teeth, you may require a toothpaste formulated to reduce sensitivity—though you should check with your dentist if you’re having sensitivity, as it might be a sign of a greater problem.

One type of toothpaste we don’t recommend: toothpaste containing clay or other “natural” abrasives. These products are often too abrasive and can strip teeth of enamel. If you’re interested in a green or natural toothpaste, definitely consult with your dentist to find one that won’t cause more harm than good.

Most other toothpaste on the market are going to meet that general requirement of containing fluoride, so from there, toothpaste choice can be a matter of personal preference. If you’re not sure though, ask us what toothpaste we recommend for your specific needs the next time you come in for a cleaning!

Time for a checkup? Set up an appointment today with Weber, Mountford & Ruszkowski Family Dentistry!