What is the hierarchy of ratings by the ADA, and do the toothpaste manufacturers buy these approvals?


I notice that on tooth-care products, the ADA has given ratings such as "Approved," "Professionally Recommended," etc. What is the hierarchy of these, and do the toothpaste manufacturers buy these approvals? Some have no such rating. Are these to be avoided?

-- A Toothsome Reader, San Diego


In the men's room the other day, I thought of you. On the sink there was a bottle of Lysol disinfectant. It said on it "Approved by the American Dental Association." Huh?

-- Jim, Ohio

Thanks, Jim. Always nice to be remembered. And how desperate were you for reading material that day? Alarmed by your query, I got right on the horn with the molar maharajas in Chicago to make sure I wasn't missing a step in my oral hygiene regimen. Nope. No Lysol gargle recommended. Seems the ADA scrutinizes all kinds of crazy of stuff, much of which you wouldn't want to stick in your mouth. Only about 30 percent of products with the ADA seal are consumer items. The majority is professional gear like chairs, lights, instruments, anesthetics, disinfectants -- I mean, would you want a dentist with sub-par spit sinks or mock smocks? Hell, no. And from what I can tell, the ADA doesn't screw around. If you claim your toothpaste will make your smile bright enough to be visible from MIR, you'd better have the statistics to prove it. The ADA's testing departments recently have been consolidated into one group, the Council on Scientific Affairs, and these days you're either approved or not approved. Period. No weasely hierarchies or nuances.

So suppose we want to market Toothsome's Pâte des Dents, "for a smile like a ripe French brie." We fill out an application, submit the product and a rundown of our advertising claims, plus clinical and/or lab data to support them. Staff dentists and laboratory scientists review the submittal, conduct their own tests in some cases, and make sure the product is safe and data back up the claims. If everything's copacetic, we'll be granted permission to use the seal that says "Accepted by the American Dental Association." Permission runs out in three years; we have to apply again to have it renewed. If we change our formula at any point, all bets are off, and we have to start over again. The association's had its testing standards and approval process in place since the mid-1930s. But the program's voluntary. If we think no one cares about the seal or the paperwork gives us a headache, then we can just blow off the ADA and go sealless.

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