The Fifth Dentist

The Fifth Dentist

“Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

In the 1970s, Trident Gum came up with this slogan, and the idea of “four out of five dentists,” which is still widely used today to sell gum and toothpaste.

This slogan, and the idea that four out of five dentists are endorsing a specific product, is incredibly misleading. Which is why, instead of trusting those four dentists, we think it makes sense to trust the fifth: the one that doesn’t recommend that Trident gum or that Colgate toothpaste. Why?

First, let’s address that oddly non-specific “four out of five” statement. Our brains hear “four out of five” and translate that to 80%. Even though that amount sounds impressive at first, it doesn’t sound so grand when you break it down into real numbers. Let’s say 15 dentists are polled in total. It takes just 12 dentists to achieve that 4 out of 5, or 80%, statistic. And let’s be real: “12 out of 15 dentists” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

We also need to address the second half of the statement. The slogan goes on to say that the dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum. Although the wording of the statement makes it sound like dentists are recommending gum in general, what the statement is really saying is:

If you are already a gum chewer, 80% of the dentists we surveyed recommend that you chew sugarless gum.”

But what about that fifth dentist? These days, we often see or hear that four out of five dentists recommend specific brands of toothpaste. Why isn’t that fifth dentist in favor of that gum or toothpaste?

We’ll let you in on a little industry secret, which is something the hypothetical fifth dentist knows and is likely why he or she isn’t endorsing this brand: all toothpaste is basically the same.

Sure — you have your decay prevention, fluoride, or fluoride-free formulas, as well as those that are designed to tackle gingivitis and plaque or help to whiten your teeth. Others are formulated for sensitivity, but keep in mind that even toothpaste that makes a specific promise still has the same basic ingredients as the brand sitting right next to it.

Don’t get us wrong: if you have sensitive teeth or need extra help tackling plaque, you should still seek out specialist formulas with specialized ingredients — but if you’re someone who, like of us, finds yourself pacing up and down the toothpaste aisle desperately comparing brands… well, take it from that fifth dentist: the best way to choose the right toothpaste is to look for the American Dental Association seal of acceptance.