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!

Basic Practices for Excellent Dental Health

Basic Practices for Excellent Dental Health

Matthew Norman, DDS and Michelle Phillips, RDH

Caregivers are responsible for the oral and overall health of those they care for. As a caregiver, many questions may come to mind regarding your responsibilities for one’s oral health:

How should I go about caring for someone’s mouth and teeth? What type of dental hygiene routine is best for my loved-one, friend or patient? What is the proper way to brush and floss teeth? How often should my dependant see his/her Professional Dental Team? What types of oral health products should I use that will allow me to provide the best oral care I can? How do I clean false teeth?

Our goal is to help answer these questions and to provide information that you can use to improve your overall practices for excellent dental health, whether it be your own or someone else’s.

When the question of how to provide care for someone else’s oral health comes to mind, try to think of how you would care for your own mouth. Brushing your teeth twice a day (morning/night) and flossing once a day, should come to mind… When brushing, be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride helps strengthen the outer layer of the teeth to prevent cavities. You shouldn’t use a medium or hard-bristled toothbrush because the rigid bristles can damage the gums and cause them to recede. When the toothbrush bristles become ‘wilted or frayed’ in appearance, it’s time to change to a new one. A good rule of thumb is to replace your toothbrush every three months, or whenever you’ve been sick. Changing your toothbrush after you’ve been sick is extremely important—the bristles can harbor bacteria and prolong your illness. Always use a light, but firm pressure when brushing. For instance, imagine that you are brushing a ripe tomato and don’t want to bruise it. These use and maintenance tips also apply to those who use electric toothbrushes.


It can be more difficult flossing someone else’s then than flossing your own, but the principles are the same. To properly floss, take a piece of floss approximately 18-inches long and wrap it around your middle fingers. Use your index fingers and thumbs to guide the floss between the teeth. Once the floss is in between two adjacent teeth, be sure to adapt the floss to each tooth, forming the floss into a ‘C’ shape. Gently slide the floss below the gumline, adapt to the adjacent tooth and do the same. There are several flossers or floss picks on the market that can help assist with this motion. The concept remains the same…you must adapt the floss to each tooth!


Ideally, everyone should see their dentist every six months and in some cases, more frequently. Your dentist and dental hygienist work together at these visits to assess the health of your gums and teeth. The dental team will determine the proper visit interval to ensure that an excellent level of health is maintained in your mouth. Aside from assessing the health of your mouth and having a professional cleaning, the doctor will also perform an oral cancer screening at your regular visit. The members of your dental team are the only health care professionals that look into your mouth on a regular basis. It is imperative for them to establish a baseline of what your mouth looks like and record the presence of any abnormalities. Regular oral cancer screens ensure your mouth is examined for cancer on a consistent basis and the necessary precautions and/or treatments are performed in the event an abnormality is found.


The following are important points when caring for those with false teeth or dentures: Make sure the dentures are taken out every night before sleeping. Your gums need to breathe! Keeping the dentures in place all day and night can cause the gum tissue to become red and irritated. Irritated gum tissue can cause discomfort when wearing the dentures. Constant wearing of dentures can also cause oral infections. When cleaning dentures, be sure to brush them as you would your own teeth. Use a denture brush or a soft-bristled toothbrush and denture cleaner—you may also use an antibacterial soap or a mild dishwashing liquid. When the dentures are out of the mouth, they can be soaked in a denture cleanser or water, to help avoid drying and potentially losing their form. Before replacing the dentures in the mouth, gently brush the gums and tongue to stimulate circulation and remove any plaque debris that may be present.

Remember that your Professional Dental Team is here to help you. If you need any assistance or have any questions about caring for your loved ones, don’t hesitate to contact them. As a caregiver, be sure to remember what is necessary to care for one’s oral health: brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, daily flossing, eating well-balanced meals, and visiting your Dentist regularly.