Potato Wedges: Talking Toothpaste

October 9th, 2008 by Potato

This post originally appeared as part of my irregular feature “Potato Wedges” over on the Moneygardener

In the course of all that school work, I’ve pulled a lot of all-nighters, which has required a lot of caffeine to keep me somewhat awake. I’ve never been able to get into coffee, just too bitter for my sweet tooth (actually, I have about 28 sweet teeth), so Coke was my vice. Lots and lots of Coke.

The thing about Coke is that it is just stupidly destructive to teeth, especially when you’re in the lab for 14 hours straight and aren’t brushing until you sleep, and you’re not doing that, either. Pretty much every tooth from my canines back has a cavity, and the funny thing I learned about cavities from my dentist is that the fillings, particularly when you “chew hard” or grind your teeth like I supposedly do, have a limited lifespan, on the order of about 10 years at which point they usually have to be re drilled and refilled because the enamel starts wearing down around the filling (widening the hole), or the filling itself may crack or become loose. So now I’m in this holding pattern where I have more than 10 fillings that are all on this 10-year cycle, so I’m getting at least one filling redone every year. Needless to say, I spend a lot on dental care — I usually max out my $500 university dental plan every year, and still end up paying another $500 or so out of my own pocket in co-pays.

To try to ameliorate the situation, I jump on almost every dental care fad there is (I have yet to get a water pick irrigator thing, but I know it’s coming). Recently, Crest and Colgate came out with new toothpastes: Crest Pro Health and Colgate Total Advanced Health/Professional Clean. They were more than twice as expensive as the regular version of the toothpaste I usually buy (Colgate Total), so they must be good, right? Well, after I got home from the store (Shoppers Drug Mart, btw) I looked at the active ingredients and the health claims and they were exactly the same. What a scam! I went back to the store and also saw “enamel hardening” toothpaste, which sounded like just what I needed. Turns out this had fluoride as its only active ingredient — basically, they renamed their basic toothpaste (non-total, non-12-hour-antibacterial, non-tatar-fighting) enamel hardening. I started to wonder if the new Advanced Health tubes were just a marketing gimmick, repackaging the same stuff for a much bigger markup.

To make a long story merely medium-length, I found that there was one very slight difference: the new expensive versions had tiny silica particles in them, basically sand grains to act as abrasives to help clean teeth even more. I’m skeptical first off of how effective that might really be, and secondly on whether that really makes the toothpaste cost twice as much. I was just about to launch into full righteous indignation mode and write to Colgate-Palmolive and P&G expressing my dismay at their deceptive price gouging tactics and how I was going to switch back to Colgate Total when I was hit by the noodly appendage of perspective. Toothpaste, in the grand scheme of things, is an extremely minor expense, especially in light of how much I spend on dental care. In fact, I’ve gone and bought myself some Colgate Prevident, something I had been avoiding merely because it costs $12/bottle. Prevident, for those who don’t know, is a concentrated fluoride toothpaste (1.1% vs the 0.243% in regular toothpaste) that’s meant to be used as a before-bed brush-on treatment after you’ve already brushed your teeth with regular toothpaste. It’s really for people like me with particularly horrible mouths; most people don’t need that kind of treatment.

So kids, brush and floss those teeth, and do your homework early so you don’t stay up all night drinking Coke like it was your job. I don’t want to recommend caffeine pills since they always seemed kind of extreme to me, but it might not be such a bad alternative.

Oh, and MG: Sorry, I know you own Procter & Gamble (PG), but I’ve just always been a Colgate (CL) guy (and Crest doesn’t have a Prevident alternative!)

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