Stop the Confusion with Over-the-Counter Products

Stop the Confusion with Over-the-Counter Products

Dr. Matthew Norman and Michelle Phillips, RDH


There are several over-the-counter products that aid in excellent oral health.  The “Oral Care” aisle in your drug store can be very overwhelming with all the different brands and products available.  Hopefully these tips will help you better decide on everything from toothbrushes and toothpastes, to fluoride, chewing gum and rinses.


Choosing the best toothbrush is a simple decision, the toothbrush needs to fit your mouth!    You never want to get a toothbrush too large for your mouth.  If you have a smaller mouth, some adult brushes may be too large and a youth brush may be more comfortable.  Also, you want to make sure the bristles are extra-soft or soft.  Brushes with stiffer bristles can cause damage to your gums and cause them to recede over time.  When using a worn-out toothbrush (the toothbrush starts to look “frayed”), the inner bristles are the ones cleaning your teeth.  The inner bristles tend to be stiffer and can therefore cause damage to your gums.  Pay attention to the handle too…you want to make sure it’s going to be comfortable to hold.  Those with arthritis, or any other problem with grasping, may want to choose a toothbrush with a larger handle.


It is easy become overwhelmed with the variety of toothpastes available today.  When choosing a toothpaste, the most important consideration is whether or not it contains fluoride.  Most toothpastes contain fluoride to aid in cavity prevention.  Other oral health issues to consider when selecting a toothpaste include:

  • Gingivitis: If you have, or at a higher risk of developing gingivitis, Colgate Total is the only toothpaste on the market that is approved by the FDA to prevent gingivitis.  Colgate Total contains the ingredient triclosan, which is an antibacterial and antifungal agent.
  • Stain: If you are prone to collecting stain from coffee, tea or red wine, whitening toothpaste may be beneficial.  These types of toothpaste tend to be a little more abrasive to help remove stains.  Crest and Colgate both have several variations of whitening toothpastes.
  • Sensitivity: For those with gum recession and/or tooth sensitivity, a toothpaste containing concentrated amounts of fluoride will be beneficial to help desensitize the exposed root surfaces. Crest and Colgate both have sensitivity-countering toothpastes.  Sensodyne is highly-recommended sensitivity toothpaste.


Fluoride provides three very important benefits to your teeth: remineralization of the teeth, resistance to tooth decay and it slows down the formation of acids that cause tooth decay.  Fluoride can actually remineralize or repair the enamel (the outermost layer of a tooth).  When you get a cavity that must be filled, the decay must pass through the enamel into the inner layer of a tooth (the dentin).  If a cavity has just started (as often seen on routine bitewing x-rays) and is still contained in the enamel, the area can remineralize.  Excellent oral hygiene and regular fluoride exposure is necessary for this process to occur, but this hard work can prevent a filling!  Fluoride can be found in most toothpastes and several over-the-counter rinses.  Most dental offices have prescription-strength fluoride toothpastes, like Prevident, that can be dispensed to those who are at a higher risk of developing cavities. 


Most of the sugar-free chewing gum on the market contains xylitol, which has been proven to help prevent cavities.  A cavity is formed when sugars are introduced to an acidic environment—plaque on your teeth is acidic and when sugars are presented, it begins the demineralization process.  Xylitol is a natural sweetener that doesn’t break down like sugar, and helps keep a neutral pH in your mouth.  It also helps prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth.  Several mints also contain xylitol.


Dental rinses can be beneficial to achieving optimal oral health.  The main thing to look for when choosing a rinse is to find one without alcohol.  Alcohol dries out the tissue in your mouth and can sometimes cause pain.  Dry mouth also causes a person to be more susceptible to tooth decay. 

  • Everyday Rinses:  Scope and Crest Pro-Health are two great rinses that do not contain alcohol for someone looking for an everyday rinse to help freshen breath.  Listerine also has an alcohol-free rinse available, Listerine Zero.
  • Dry Mouth Rinses:  If you take medications that tend to make your mouth dry,  Biotene is a great daily rinse to use.  Biotene helps re-moisten and lubricate your mouth.
  • Fluoride Rinses:  For someone that has poor oral hygiene or is prone to cavities,a fluoride rinse may be indicated.  Act Mouthrinse and Colgate’s Phos-Flur are available in most drug stores and are great rinses to use on a daily basis. These rinses should be used right before bed, after brushing and flossing, and should not be rinsed out afterwards.


Don’t get intimidated or overwhelmed when standing down the “Oral Care” aisle now that you’re educated on the different products; just choose what works best for you!