HOW TO: Find (good) toothpaste in Japan

Another one of those "living in Japan" myths claims that Japanese toothpaste generally doesn't work. Or that it doesn't contain fluoride. And some folks go so far as to insist this is one of the main reasons why Japanese people have bad teeth. (I hope you realize this is a generalization, and not one that I came up with nor believe!) Of course I bought into this myth, although a few people mentioned something about Aquafresh toothpaste, and brought four tubes with me from the States. Nothing wrong with bringing toothpaste with you, but you certainly don't need to waste luggage space on it. So now that I've dispelled the myths about deodorant, sanitary napkins and tampons, let's delve into toothpaste.

toothpaste, Japan, Aquafresh, fluoride
Aquafresh toothpaste - 3 stripe kind. 

The toothpaste I'm going to examine here is Aquafresh, although some other brands offer similar ingredients. I browsed a local daily goods store and discovered that about two-thirds of the products listed fluoride as an active ingredient. Granted, most toothpaste probably did lack fluoride years ago as well as other ingredients of "modern" toothpaste, but it seems that many brands have caught up now. So first, some words to know:

フッ素 ふっそ fusso fluoride
フッ化ナトリウム フッかナトリウム fukka natoriumu fluoride
ハミガキ hamigaki toothpaste
歯周病 ししゅうびょう shishuubyou periodontis
口臭 こうしゅう koushuu halitosis, bad breath
ムシ歯, 虫歯 むしば mushiba cavities
予防 よぼう yobou prevention
  いき iki breath

The toothpaste packaging typically indicates whether it contains certain active ingredients or not, similar to probably what those of us from Western countries are accustomed to (well, aside the language difference). So, most toothpaste with fluoride say "フッ素配合" on the outside. (配合, haigou, means "contains" in this context). However, a few brands listed nothing, and so in that case, check the ingredient list for "フッ素" or "モノフルロリン酸ナトリウム."

Of course, not all toothpaste is striped, but in the case of Aquafresh, each stripe represents a different "preventative" ingredient, i.e., the ingredients you probably want in your toothpaste.

Aquafresh toothpaste with prevention of cavities, periodontis, and halitosis. Includes fluoride.

The descriptions cover all four sides of this small Aquafresh box I have, so they are hard not to miss. The red stripe (which is red gel) is your cavity fighter. (Red for blood? War?). Look for ムシ歯 or 虫歯 (むしば, mushiba, cavity/cavities) and 予防 (よぼう, yobou, prevention) for cavity prevention.

The white stripe (white paste) prevents halitosis, or bad breath. Look for 口臭 (こうしゅう, koushuu, halitosis/bad breath) and 予防 again.

Finally, the blue stripe (blue gel) prevents periodontis. Periodontis in Japanese? 歯周病 (ししゅうびょう, shishuubyou). Look for that, plus, of course, 予防.

Some brands of toothpaste may only include one or two of these ingredients or possibly more, and as I mentioned, some brands still include none of them - though I think Aquafresh is a good standard option.  Or, if you prefer something a bit more natural, Tom's of Maine is available on I've also seen some supposedly natural or partially natural toothpaste at a few stores in my area, including Loft.

So, please don't load up a suitcase with toothpaste or beg your friends or family to send you packages in bulk - unless you are THAT attached. Oh, and you don't really need to bring your Sonicare either (or the replacement brush heads). That was another one I could have left behind...

For more, check out A guide to toothpaste in Japan.

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