Potassium nitrate and stannous fluoride both help with teeth sensitivity, but which is the better one? I will review how each of these works and which one is better.
Also if you’re tooth sensitivity is very severe, you’ll want to keep reading until the end of the article. Near the end of this post, I talk about two other active ingredients that are even better for tooth sensitivity.
Let’s dig right in!
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity is described as sharp pain after exposure to certain stimuli that is not due to any other dental disease. These stimuli include heat, touch, and chemicals. Tooth sensitivity (formal name dentin hypersensitivity) is diagnosed after other issues have been ruled out.
The current thought is that tooth sensitivity is due to movement of tubules within teeth cells. When heat or certain tactile stimuli cause a change across the tooth, it causes movement of the tubules and distortion of the pain pathways.
Tooth sensitivity is actually very common and most frequently affects people that are between 30 to 40 years old. It can affect anyone of any age though. It can affect any tooth and often affects multiple teeth.
Tooth sensitivity is often accompanied by gum disease or gum recession. Along with using toothpastes to reduce tooth sensitivity, it is also important to halt any gum disease in its tracks to prevent your teeth sensitivity from getting worse.
How Potassium Nitrate Work?
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound compose of a potassium ion and nitrate ion (KNO3). It is thought to work by blocking transmission of pain signals. The potassium ions travel into the teeth cell’s tubules. They reach the internal nerves and as the potassium ions build up, they desensitize and intercept the pain signals. In this manner, pain and hypersensitivity cannot be transmitted and interpreted as an uncomfortable sensations.
How Does Stannous Fluoride Work?
Stannous fluoride is a chemical compound that is composed of an inorganic ion and a fluoride ion (SnF2). It works through its stannous ions. The stannous ions form deposits on the teeth tubules and physically block them from being impacted by external stimuli.
In addition, it also works particularly efficiently at removing plaques and fighting gingivitis – much more so than the regular fluoride found in most toothpastes (sodium fluoride). For this reason, I am a particularly strong proponent of toothpastes with stannous fluoride.
Potassium Nitrate vs Stannous Fluoride Mechanism Action
Simply put (summing up the points above), potassium nitrate helps to desensitize the nerves inside of your teeth and stannous fluoride helps to create a barrier over sensitive areas.
Potassium Nitrate is Frequently Found in Sensodyne
Although many toothpaste brands utilize potassium nitrate, it is most commonly used in Sensodyne. Sensodyne does have toothpastes that use other active ingredients such as stannous fluoride (more on this below) and I’ve also seen a line that uses NovaMin.
Sensodyne is a popular brand for a reason. Many people are loyal customers of Sensodyne despite the higher costs because of how well the potassium nitrate works.
Stannous Fluoride is Working Its Way into More Toothpastes
Stannous fluoride is my favorite active ingredient for fighting gingivitis and plaque. It helped me in my own journey reversing my severe gingivitis. It is a powerful chemical compound that is being used in more and more toothpastes that I highly recommend you try out.
In recent years, stannous fluoride has been making its way into more toothpastes. Colgate, Crest, and Sensodyne all have their own lines of toothpaste that contain stannous fluoride. I personally recommend the Colgate Total SF because it contains their patented zinc phosphate which has been shown to prevent staining side effects that no other brand uses (because it is still on patent).
I want to point out that the stannous fluoride toothpastes that Sensodyne makes is by all counts the same as the stannous fluoride toothpastes made by other brands. Yes, stannous fluoride does help with teeth sensitivity. But no, Sensodyne’s formulation does not infer extra benefits from a teeth sensitivity standpoint. In particular, it does not also contain the active ingredient of potassium nitrate that is discussed above.
The Winner Is…
Potassium nitrate – but not by much.
In a study comparing the efficacy of potassium nitrate vs stannous fluoride, potassium nitrate did slightly better at reducing teeth sensitivity at weeks 2 and 4. It was only slightly better (not statistically significant). By the 12-week mark, stannous fluoride was performing just as well, if not better.
If tooth sensitivity is a big problem for you, I recommend a toothpaste with potassium nitrate. But if it is only a minor problem, I recommend a stannous fluoride toothpaste as I think the long-term benefits of its ability to fight plaque are worth it. Furthermore, like I said above, after 12 weeks of usage, it shows about the same amount of reduction in teeth sensitivity as potassium nitrate.
There had been a study back in 2000 that showed the combination of both stannous fluoride and potassium nitrate was better than potassium nitrate alone. However, I have searched and have not found any toothpastes that contain both active ingredients.
Severe Tooth Sensitivity
If tooth sensitivity is more than a big problem….if it’s severe, then note that there are also other active ingredients that can help with teeth sensitivity. In fact, they work better than both of the two mentioned above. These two active ingredients are Arginine and Novamin (Calcium sodium phosphosilicate).
If your tooth is particularly sensitive, I recommend considering one of these toothpastes with arginine (Colgate Pro-relief) or Novamin (Sensodyne) for at least 12 weeks and then switching over to stannous fluoride toothpaste for the more long-term benefits on teeth.
Schiff T, Bonta Y, Proskin HM, Devizio W, Petrone M, Volpe AR. Desensitizing efficacy of a new dentifrice containing 5.0% potassium nitrate and 0.454% stannous fluoride. Am J Dent. 2000;13(3):111-5.
Sharma N, Roy S, Kakar A, Greenspan DC, Scott R. A clinical study comparing oral formulations containing 7.5% calcium sodium phosphosilicate (NovaMin), 5% potassium nitrate, and 0.4% stannous fluoride for the management of dentin hypersensitivity. J Clin Dent. 2010;21(3):88-92.
Docimo R, Montesani L, Maturo P, et al. Comparing the efficacy in reducing dentin hypersensitivity of a new toothpaste containing 8.0% arginine, calcium carbonate, and 1450 ppm fluoride to a benchmark commercial desensitizing toothpaste containing 2% potassium ion: an eight-week clinical study in Rome, Italy. J Clin Dent. 2009;20(4):137-43.