Can Toothpastes like Sensodyne Repair Cavities?

With a name like “Sensodyne Repair and Protect,” you would think the answer to this question is yes.  The answer is actually a little more complicated than that. We’ve previously written about how Sensodyne works, and recommend it to our patients as a way to treat sensitivity and protect your enamel, but there are limits to what a toothpaste can do.

What Does a Cavity Do to a Tooth?

Cavities are bacterial infections of teeth.  The enamel covering the outside of teeth is the hardest substance in the human body.  The way bacteria start cavities is by producing strong acids that weaken and soften tooth enamel.  The very first stage of the cavity process is demineralization.  The acid produced by bacteria actually changes the mineral content of enamel.

If nothing happens to stop this process, and the cavity continues to progress further into the tooth, the soft, weak enamel begins to dissolve or break away.  This leads to a hole or “cavity” in the tooth.

Four identical teeth tiagrams. Eahch tooth diagrams is covered with more dark spots to show that there is more teeth decay
The way bacteria start cavities is by producing strong acids that weaken and soften tooth enamel.

What is the Active Ingredient in Sensodyne Repair and Protect?

Sensodyne Repair and Protect contains stannous fluoride, which is a compound proven to protect teeth from cavities and gum disease.  Most over-the-counter toothpastes contain some form of fluoride, and the most common compound is sodium fluoride.  Stannous fluoride has a few advantages over sodium fluoride.  One advantage is that it kills specific bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease.  Stannous fluoride is also more effective at strengthening tooth enamel against the acid attacks of bacteria than sodium fluoride is.  Some studies support the ability of stannous fluoride to remineralize weak, softened enamel.

What Does Sensodyne Repair?

Brown haired woman with a pained expression putting her hand next to her left cheek
When dentin is exposed by gum recession or heavy teeth grinding, teeth can become sensitive.

According to Sensodyne’s website, their stannous fluoride formulation repairs exposed dentin. Dentin is the softer, yellower material making up the bulk of each tooth. It should be covered by enamel (over the exposed portion of a tooth) or gum and bone (over the root of a tooth). When dentin is exposed by gum recession or heavy teeth grinding, teeth can become sensitive.

Sensodyne states that it “repairs” exposed dentin by creating a protective layer over it. By blocking the tiny pores in dentin, it stops the sensation of cold from reaching the nerve within the inner chamber of the tooth. This protective layer also protects the dentin from acid attacks of bacteria that could become cavities. Because dentin is softer and more porous than enamel, it is much easier for bacteria to cause cavities on exposed dentin.

Stannous fluoride also has the ability to remineralize enamel.  Typically, this remineralization effect is limited to cavities that are in their earliest stages.  We often call this “arresting” the decay or stopping it.  If the cavity has grown past the enamel layer and into the underlying dentin, it is past the point of arresting with toothpaste.

Can Anything Repair Cavities?

Not really.

We can stop cavities from continuing to grow or progress by diligently using stannous fluoride toothpastes or applying specialized materials in the dental office.  There are exciting new dental materials being developed around the world that show high success rates at arresting tooth decay!

Even if we manage to stop the growth, though, that does not necessarily repair the damage.  The only way to truly repair a cavity is to have dental treatment.  With a dental filling, we remove the damaged tooth structure and replace it with a tooth-colored filling material. We can also place a dental crown or porcelain veneer if the damage is more extensive.

What is the Take-Home Message about Sensodyne?

Light blue, dark blue, and white toothbrush with clear transparent on its bristles
If you have any cavities that are large enough for you to see, there is no toothpaste that will repair them.

Sensodyne definitely improves oral health, lowers the risk for cavities and gum disease, and reduces tooth sensitivity.  It is a wonderful toothpaste for anyone to use, and it has significant benefits for those with a tendency to develop cavities or experience sensitivity.  It can stop cavities in their earliest stages.

It does not, however, repair full-blown cavities.  If you have any cavities that are large enough for you to see, there is no toothpaste that will repair them.  It is very important to see a dentist as soon as possible.  The sooner you treat them, the less expensive and less extensive the treatment will be.

More Questions about Cavities and Toothpastes?

Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our wonderful dentists.  We love educating our patients and helping them make preventive choices for their oral health.