From the Horse’s Mouth

I have been thinking quite a lot recently about toothpaste. Now before you all start nudging each other and saying sotto voce "there I told you the old guy had lost it" let me explain.

When I was growing up there were only two choices when it came to brushing your teeth: you either did or you didn’t. Now there is a plethora.

For years I used a standard toothpaste from one of the major brands that promised "Maximum Cavity Protection, Strengthens Teeth, Freshens Breath" which would seem to cover most of the bases. But then with advancing years my teeth became more sensitive especially to cold water so on the advice of my dentist I switched to something called "Sensitive Pro Relief".

Apparently that was not enough variety for some consumers because – as I noted in the supermarket the other day – we now have over a dozen to choose from. For those with small rocks between their teeth there is something called "Charcoal Deep Clean". There are also "Professional Sensitive", "Sensitive Whitening", "Sensitive Enamel Protect", and "Sensitive Fresh Mint" to name but four.

There are no fewer than three varieties just to look after your gums: "Pro Gum", "Gum Protection" and "Pro Gum Health". We also have "Advanced Fresh", "Triple Action", "Optic White" and – I swear I am not making this up – "Maximum Fresh – Cooling Crystals".

I apologise to any varieties I may have inadvertently missed out. And I apologise if any readers think I am criticizing a particular brand. I am sure all the pastes do a fine job and I realise other equally worthy brands are expanding their stable of tooth-cleaning runners as well.

But the point I am circling in on is this: I know this is a consumer society, and consumers generally like and deserve choices, so the wise corporation will offer them some. But have we taken the process too far? How is any consumer supposed to make an informed choice when a single brand has well over a dozen varieties? Why should the customer be obliged apparently to choose between white teeth and healthy gums?

Are we supposed to put a sliver of half a dozen different varieties on our brush at the same time, or would it be better to brush six times with different pastes after every meal? Could there be a niche market for a product that guaranteed to do everything – clean between your teeth, strengthen the enamel, protect against cavities, make teeth whiter, nourish your gums, sweeten your breath etc. and do it all sensitively?

All in all it is hard to escape the suspicion that instead of being helped by these many choices the average consumer is just bamboozled and grabs the nearest tube off the shelf.