Conquering Tooth Sensitivity: What To Look for in a Fluoridated Toothpaste

Fluoride toothpaste can help sensitive teeth

More Than Cavity Prevention: Other Uses of Fluoride

Patients often believe that fluoride exists purely for the sake of preventing cavities, and while this is partially true, it is a bit more complex than that. 

At its origin, fluoridated toothpaste’s primary goal was cavity control. Over the years, toothpaste has become far more specific in what it is targeting. In addition to preventing tooth decay, fluoride is extremely effective at desensitizing the teeth and detoxifying the gums. Different types of fluoride offer different benefits, and while sodium fluoride is still the most widely used form of fluoride, it is no longer the best nor the only fluoride option.

Types of Fluoride and Tooth Desensitizers

You are likely wondering what the differences are between the different fluorides and desensitizing agents out there. Here is a brief overview of the main three you will notice on toothpaste ingredient lists, as well as their main purposes.

Sodium Fluoride 

This is your standard, run-of-the-mill form of fluoride that is found in the majority of toothpastes, especially the ones that don’t market themselves for anything specific. This is an excellent option if all you are seeking is cavity control.

Stannous Fluoride 

Stannous fluoride is becoming more mainstream due to its benefits to both teeth and gums. It is both an antimicrobial that acts to detoxify the gums and control gingivitis as well as an effective desensitizer. It is the only fluoride that helps with gum health. Moreover, studies show that it is more efficient at tooth desensitization than other forms of fluoride. Toothpastes containing stannous fluoride are considered therapeutic.

While it has long been seen as a superior form of fluoride, its propensity to stain the teeth brown gave it a bad name, and dental hygienists became less likely to recommend this particular form due to its negative side effects. Thankfully, in the last few years, toothpaste manufacturers added zinc and other ingredients to prevent these brown stains from forming on the teeth. Doing this made the particular toothpastes that contained stannous fluoride widely popular among dental professionals and patients alike.

Potassium Nitrate

Potassium nitrate’s primary use in toothpaste is to treat tooth sensitivity; it serves no therapeutic value in preventing or controlling gingivitis. Prior to stannous fluoride-containing toothpastes changing their formulations, potassium nitrate was seen as the gold standard for toothpastes being marketed to patients suffering with sensitive teeth.

What type of toothpaste is best for sensitive teeth?

When trying to choose between potassium nitrate and stannous fluoride to alleviate tooth sensitivity, it is important to understand that each of these desensitizers has a different mechanism of action, meaning that they work in different ways. Stannous fluoride acts as a shield, preventing the sensation from reaching the nerve to begin with, while potassium nitrate deactivates the nerve pathway itself (i.e., keeps the pain signal from reaching the brain). Always remember that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, making neither one superior in the eyes of all patients. 

A good rule of thumb is that if you have been using stannous fluoride, for example, for at least two consecutive weeks without any noticeable reduction in tooth sensitivity, then switch to a toothpaste with potassium nitrate and try again. Most patients will have success with one or the other.

If your tooth sensitivity persists after exhausting your over-the-counter options, contact us for an evaluation, and we will be happy to explore other treatment options.

Written by Dr. Christopher King

Dr. King has been leading King Dental since 2000. In the 20-plus years since opening King Dental, his experiences have only strengthened his excitement for his chosen career. Dentistry is Dr. King’s life’s mission.

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