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Front Desk

by Stephanie Sisk

  • September 14, 2016

Consumer sensory overload: What's a patient to do?

Since my dental visits as a child, I have received toothpaste and a toothbrush (and later floss) each and every time I have left the dentist’s office.

No doubt that toothpaste was Crest or Colgate, still the top dogs in the toothpaste market with some 70 percent of sales. But a trip to the store to pick up a simple tube of toothpaste or some mouthwash can launch consumers – your patients – into “sensory overload” as they’re confronted by virtually a whole wall of oral health products.  

Because we know so much more about oral care, manufacturers have jumped in with products to satisfy every possible niche: regular toothpaste, gels and pastes, children’s toothpaste, toothpaste with breath freshener, whitening toothpaste (regular and “advanced”), toothpaste to control tartar and for sensitive teeth (don’t forget whitening – advanced and otherwise—for sensitive teeth). The story is the same for toothbrushes, floss, and mouthwash as well as newer products, like brush picks and whitener strips. And don’t forget the so-called “natural” oral care products sold in health food stores or groceries like Whole Foods. 

How can this be so complicated? How’s a patient to make sense of it?

In 2013, there were more than 350 distinct types or sizes of toothpaste sold in retail stores. According to the Chicago-based market research firm Mintel International Group, oral health care products have grown steadily since 2008 – and, amazingly, there is room for more.

“Companies should focus their efforts on encouraging consumers to enhance their current oral care routines by adding less commonly used products to their repertoires, such as mouthwash, floss, and brush picks,” the Mintel report stated. “Companies could also pursue ways to encourage consumers to spend slightly more on products, by continuing to introduce interesting new product flavors or adding new functional benefits.”

One has to ask if manufacturers are getting ahead of dentistry and dentists, let alone consumers. Certainly, patients can ask their dental team which products and/or brands are best for their oral care, but during the course of the visit this question might get lost.

Quite honestly, I didn’t think about the difference between a mouthwash and an antiseptic rinse until I mentioned my son’s use of Listerine to the dental assistant at my last visit. And while I knew fluoride was good for my teeth and helped prevent cavities, I didn’t realize how it works – by hardening a tooth’s enamel – until I heard a recent news report. Actually, the dentists I’ve had over the years have been good at telling me to follow a certain protocol or treatment, but not many have given me the why – why a certain product or procedure would work best.  

A little guidance and explanation would go a long way to help patients navigate the sea of products out there – and use them to full advantage.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.