Cheap toothpaste is just as good
If healthy teeth is all you want, all you need is a toothpaste with enough fluoride. Yet 51% of toothpaste sold in India is premium, which costs three times as much as regular toothpaste.
A recent report in The Economic Times revealed that Indians are spending more money buying premium than basic toothpaste. The share of basic white toothpaste slipped to 49%, while premium products accounted for the majority. This means that either we don’t pay much attention to the toothpaste we buy because there’s no significant different in price or that we believe what the ads say, that the more expensive brands offer better protection. In both cases we’d be wrong.
The toothpaste market is wider than it need be. Each brand has a few variants offering marginally dissimilar benefits. It’s also difficult to tell which variant is basic and which is premium just by looking at the packaging. What makes comparison even more difficult if you do attempt to look at the price of each is that they’re sold in different proportions. A cheaper variant will be available in 150g packs, but the more expensive one could be sold in 80g packs only, perhaps because if you spent over Rs250 buying just toothpaste, you’d figure out what was going on or switch to a cheaper product.
The price difference between toothpastes can be significant in percentage terms. The above-mentioned article mentioned a JP Morgan report which stated that premium toothpaste costs 1.5 to 3 times what basic toothpaste costs. This is accurate. For example, you can buy a 100g pack of Colgate Dental Cream for Rs35, but an 80g pack of Colgate Sensitivity Pro Relief will cost you Rs130. The latter, of course, offers relief from sensitivity, a claim we’ll discuss later, but GlaxoSmithKline’s Sensodyne does the same job for just Rs90 (80g pack). Such price differences are common.
The most basic product in a company’s range will claim to offer all you expect from toothpaste – white teeth, protection from gum problems, to remove plaque – but a more expensive product will claim to do it better without specifying how. For example, if Colgate Total, at Rs72 for 150g really is ‘the most advanced toothpaste formula’, fighting plaque, tartar build-up, gingivitis and bad breath, why have they also created Colgate Total Pro Gum Health (Rs92 for 150g), which claims to offer exactly the same benefits? Similarly, Pepsodent sells Whitening Toothpaste at Rs75 (150g) and Expert Whitening Toothpaste at Rs95 (150g), neither of which appear to be different from Pepsodent Gum Care Toothpaste (Rs72 for 150g).
What tests reveal
Dentists agree that simply using fluoride-based toothpaste is enough to keep your mouth healthy. Tests substantiate this. Two months ago, a German consumer association named Stiftung Warentest tested 20 toothpastes, including Colgate products. Five products were rated ‘very good’ and 12 ‘good’. All these products had just one thing in common: that they contained at least 1,450 parts per million of fluoride. The only products that were found ‘lacking’ were the natural alternatives, which didn’t contain fluoride. The study noted that German consumers could spend just 39 cents a tube by purchasing the ‘very good’ Lidl Dentalux brand, instead of splurging on ‘very good’ Colgate Total, which costs over €5 a tube.
A test conducted by Consumer Reports in 1998 also revealed similar results. 30 of the 38 brands it tested were found to be excellent, despite being very differently priced. It also revealed that toothpastes can’t whiten your teeth. If they’re discoloured, you’ll need to see a dentist.
The only reason to buy expensive toothpaste is if you have sensitive teeth, in which case toothpastes that contain potassium nitrate would help. Otherwise, it appears that more expensive products are more advertising than actually beneficial. If you’re only looking to keep your mouth healthy and fresh, simply buy the cheapest fluoride toothpaste. It will do well enough to keep your mouth fresh and control cavities.