The world of dental health is getting a whole lot handier — in the last 10 years, many oral care products that once required a prescription have become available over-the-counter. Why? “There was such a demand for teeth-whitening systems and other products that were sold at dentists’ offices that companies started making versions to sell in drugstores and supermarkets,” says Fred Freedman, director of marketing for the Dental Trade Alliance.
And dental health researchers are constantly putting products head to head in clinical trials and studies to find out which ones work best. So before you head to your dentist’s office for some fancy-shmancy product — such as a grinding guard or high-tech toothbrush — try the drugstore. Here’s a look at some dental health products that may be worth investing in.
Ready to ditch your old-fashioned manual toothbrush for an electric one? Though most dentists tell their patients that manual toothbrushes stand up against electric models, the American Dental Association (ADA) says some people may benefit from the larger handle and powered brush of an electric toothbrush — specifically people with limited mobility and arthritis.
And many of these rechargeable toothbrushes go a step farther — they have brushing modes for deep cleaning, sensitivity care, whitening teeth, or gum massage, and they range from $80 to $180. Which model works best? In a recent study at the University of Missouri, the Oral-B Triumph with Floss-Action brush head was shown to remove more plaque and reduce gingivitis better than when participants brushed with it manually. Other high-performing rechargeable electric toothbrushes include the Philips Sonicare HealthyWhite, the Philips Sonicare FlexCare, and the simple, yet effective Waterpik Sensonic.
Battery-Powered Electric Toothbrushes
If you want to upgrade your toothbrush, but can’t swing the cost of a higher-end, high-tech rechargeable model, consider a battery-powered electric toothbrush, which will only cost you $7 to $30. Battery-operated electric toothbrushes are similar in design to regular manual toothbrushes, but they have enough vibration to add some extra cleaning action to your dental health efforts. Look for one that feels comfortable in your hand and has a long battery life, says John Dodes, DDS, a dentist in Forest Hills, N.Y. and author of Healthy Teeth. Battery-powered electric toothbrushes also are handy when traveling abroad because you don’t need to worry about a converter. Keep your eyes peeled for low-cost, high-efficiency models like the Brushpoint Vital Health Oral Care System, the Colgate Sonic Power Toothbrush, and any of Oral-B’s battery-powered options.
A Smarter Dental Floss
You may think dental floss is just dental floss — but there are actually a variety of flosses, differing in thickness, material, and design. While you should ask your dentist about the best type for your teeth, Dr. Dodes says he likes Johnson & Johnson’s Reach Total Care Floss ($3.29 to $5.99) because it’s made of polymer that has rough spots on it. “Most floss is made of silk or Teflon,” he says, “so it’s smooth and gets through your teeth. But when you pull it out, nothing adheres to it.” Reach Total Care Floss, however, removes a lot more of that food that’s stuck between your teeth. Other popular options include Glide Floss Picks and DenTek.
These small brushes are shaped like little Christmas trees — and they work like magic if your gums are receding or if you have dental appliances in your mouth, Dodes says. Called interdental or interproximal cleaners (because you work them between the teeth), they are most useful for cleaning debris stuck between teeth and for removing germs and bacterial plaque at the gum-tooth line. A number of manufacturers make interdental cleaners, including Butler, Dentek, Oral B, and Medtech Products, makers of The Doctor’s BrushPicks — a favorite among dentists. And you don’t need to worry about these tools doing damage to your wallet: They sell for about $3 for a pack of 100.
Though there’s some controversy surrounding mouthwash (some studies have linked alcohol-containing mouthwash to oral cancer risk), the ADA has given a number of oral rinses its seal of acceptance. “I believe patients should use mouthwash,” says Dodes. As an oral care staple, mouthwash helps clean bacteria from the inner cheeks, under the tongue, and other places where a toothbrush and floss can’t reach, he says. A good pick? Listerine Zero has no alcohol and is a gentler choice, especially if you are experiencing dry mouth from any medications you’re taking (and yes, it’s ADA-approved). But because mouthwashes come with a variety of added ingredients, from fluoride to calcium, Dodes suggests asking your dentist which rinse is best for you. Smart Mouth and OraMD make similarly safe mouthwash options.
Toothpaste With Sensitivity Training
Are your teeth particularly sensitive? Try a toothpaste that’s made to ease this discomfort — such as Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste with Pro-Argin Technology, which seals the tubules that lead to the nerves in your teeth. A recent study in the American Journal of Dentistry shows that, when used twice daily, it can provide instant and long-lasting relief from dental sensitivity to air, pressure, heat, or cold. An added bonus? This toothpaste is also good at removing stains. It sells for about $7 a tube. Other gentle products include Crest Sensitivity Toothpaste, Sensodyne Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth, and Kiss My Face Sensitive Toothpaste.
Your Guard Against Tooth-Grinding
If you’re one of the many people cursed with the nightly tooth grind, your dentist can whip up a custom mouth guard to help you stop from wearing down your pearly whites. Or you can head to the oral care counter of your drugstore: The SleepRight No-Boil Dental Guard is made from a clear, soft plastic that doesn’t require boiling to make it fit your mouth; this dental health device sells for about $30. You can also try DenTek’s similarly-priced Custom Comfort Dental Guards.
A Teeth-Whitening Star
You’ll probably get longer lasting results with teeth whitening methods provided by your dentist, but some at-home kits — which cost a lot less — are effective, too.
Of the many over-the-counter teeth whitening systems available, Crest 3D White Strips Advanced Vivid ($40) gets high ratings from consumer groups. In fact, researchers at an International Association for Dental Research meeting reported that these Crest strips produced results similar to light-assisted professional whitening. Other at-home options include Watts Power White and Aquafresh White Trays.
For more information about dental health staples to keep in your medicine cabinets, please visit EverydayHealth.com.