You might be thinking, "wait, there is more than one type of fluoride?" You're in good company. Most people think about fluoride in their toothpaste, but there are actually two types: stannous fluoride and sodium fluoride. Okay … so which one is best for you? Or maybe neither?
Kids growing up in the 1960s or 1970s were riddled with cavities. Today that number has gone down by more than half. Why? Remineralization from fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride repairs enamel by remineralizing your teeth. Remineralization is your enamel absorbing minerals to replenish lost calcium and phosphorus. This strengthens your teeth and stops the tooth decaying process.
If you're a nerd like us and get sucked down the blackhole of reading all the ingredients on all the toothpaste boxes in the dental care aisle (anybody else? no?) you'll notice that there are actually two types of fluoride: stannous fluoride, and sodium fluoride. But wait, why are there two types of fluoride? And what about all those fluoride-free options that are popping up everywhere? We'll unpack everything - read on.
Stannous fluoride toothpaste explained
If it's been a while since you took a chemistry class, then "SnF2" won't mean much to you. It's the scientific shorthand for "stannous fluoride." There are four benefits for you if you use stannous fluoride:
- It's antimicrobial and kills bacteria that can cause gum disease and tooth decay.
- It makes dental surfaces stronger and more resistant to bacterial acids.
- When it makes your teeth strong, it also reduces tooth sensitivity because the extra layer on your enamel helps reduce exposure to hot, cold, and sweet foods.
- It helps you maintain a neutral pH in your mouth - your saliva's pH won't go down as much when you eat, and it rebounds to a neutral state more quickly
"Stannous fluoride is a great option if you have an acidic oral environment," explains Wally hygienist, Sarah Clark, RDH. "Acidic saliva comes from cavity-causing bacteria that are thriving in your mouth. They eat food particles and give off acid waste as a by-product. Stannous fluoride targets those bacteria and helps eliminate them, which helps your mouth maintain a more neutral pH."
This all sounds great, so why don't more toothpastes use stannous fluoride? Well, it's much more expensive than sodium fluoride toothpaste. Which brings up the question: what's the deal with sodium fluoride toothpaste?
Sodium fluoride toothpaste, also explained
Sodium fluoride is found in more toothpastes. Just like stannous fluoride, sodium fluoride is great at helping you prevent cavities. "For many people, sodium fluoride is all that they need," shares Sarah Clark, RDH. "Using it twice per day, and letting it sit on your teeth after brushing goes a long way to remineralizing teeth and preventing tooth decay."
Wait, what do you mean let it sit on the teeth?
"Oh great question," Sarah answers. "One habit I coach my patients out of is rinsing out their mouth with water right after brushing. You want to spit out the leftover toothpaste, but then let the rest of it sit in your mouth. This allows your teeth to get maximum benefit from the remineralizing agents in your toothpaste, no matter the remineralizing ingredient."
Fluoride toothpaste, do you need it?
Let's go back down the dental care aisle. Fluoride-based toothpaste isn't the only option. Our clinicians agree that what's important is that your toothpaste has one of the following remineralizing ingredients:
"Like with your car or your home, maintenance is critical in your oral health," explains Kevin Walker, DDS. "Remineralization is like changing the filter in your fridge, or changing the oil in your car. You need to do it on a regular basis to keep your teeth healthy, and to prevent tooth decay."
After eating, food particles linger in your mouth. Your saliva breaks down those morsels into carbohydrates and sugars which bacteria feast on and break them down into acids. Before you brush those acids away, they sit on your teeth and dissolve the calcium and phosphorus that make up your tooth's enamel.
Over time, those acids weaken your enamel. But you can repair your enamel by replenishing those minerals with your toothpaste.
Fluoride for adults
Any fluoride toothpaste approved by the FDA is safe for adults (obviously use the recommended amount). The goal of your toothpaste is remineralization. Remineralization is critical for you as an adult. It's the way your teeth will continue to repair after daily wear and tear so you can keep your chompers as long as possible.
If your teeth start to show more wear, or become sensitive, your dentist might recommend a higher-dose fluoride toothpaste to boost your ability to remineralize those pearly whites.
1.1 fluoride toothpaste - why your dentist recommended it
If your dentist hands you a prescription for toothpaste your reaction might be, "Wait, what? Prescription toothpaste? Is this a joke?" We hope your dentist wasn't laughing because this stuff is for real.
1.1% sodium fluoride toothpaste has a concentrated amount of fluoride (four times the fluoride of over-the-counter toothpaste). The goal is to give your mouth's remineralization a boost.
That's why Wally studio members get amazing discounts on their at-home oral hygiene products (along with unlimited dental cleanings). If you have the right tools and routine to crush your hygiene at home, then your in-person cleanings will be a breeze and something to look forward to.
Join our waitlist if you're interested in becoming a Wally member - we're opening new studios each month!
Check out "Fluoride: the ultimate guide" for the pros and cons of fluoride, and how you can remineralize your teeth like a pro.