Choice isn’t always a good thing

It is an accepted fact these days that our everyday decisions are now dictated to and in many ways controlled by marketing companies and the hypnotic hold they seem to have over us. Through the power of media they relentlessly bombard us, telling us how we should be living our life, what we want to look like, how we should feel, what we need to eat and when we should be rushing out and spending money we haven’t got. These marketing gurus also seem to have the ability to take an everyday mole hill of a decision for us and turn it into a mountain of dilemma.

Take this morning for example. I went out looking to buy some toothpaste and came back needing half an hour in a darkened room and a packet of Panadol. Had I known beforehand that buying a simple tube of toothpaste was going to be such a challenging lesson in choice and decision making, then perhaps I would have left the house a good 15 minutes earlier and taken along a friend for moral support.

On the surface it might seem like a fairly straightforward mission to accomplish.  A matter of reaching out and grabbing the same one I had used that morning, a whole 60 minutes ago. But ‘simple’ is never something that translates easily from theory into practice. Don’t ask me how, but somewhere between the bathroom sink and the shop floor my memory had somehow erased all memories of which one I normally use.

Incidentally I blame this short term memory loss entirely on having children and as a direct result of all the brain cells that have died due to years of lost sleep.

Anyway, as a consequence of my brain blowing a fuse in this manner, I was now faced with what can only be described as a bank of cardboard boxes, and a terrible case of indecisiveness starting to grow. As someone who has trouble choosing between a blueberry muffin and a chocolate muffin without first checking what my husband is having, this didn’t bode well for my walking out of that shop anytime soon.

This may seem like something of a dramatic exaggeration (something I admit we writers are prone to do from time to time), but this time I kid you not. Stretched out from one end of the aisle all the way down to the shower gel there were no less than 24 different types of toothpaste on display, and this by the way, was ONLY in the Colgate section.

I ask you, 24. Is that really necessary?

All I want from my toothpaste is something to make my teeth shiny and bright enough to stop traffic and to give me breathe as fresh as a packet of Polo’s. What I don’t want is to have to stand there trying to narrow down the choice and make an informed decision about something so incredibly mundane.

Of course I know that when it comes to sales it is purely about the figures and making even more money for Mr Colgate. But please, can’t they take pity on those of us who simply don’t have a spare 15 minutes to scan the packets back and forth and wonder whether we need the Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection Blue Minty Gel, the Colgate Advanced Whitening plus Tartar Control, the Colgate Max White or the Colgate Triple Action..

What does ‘triple action’ even mean? Will it swill your mouth out for you and wipe down the wash basin afterward? If it did they should just say so. The stuff would fly off the shelves and into the homes of anyone who has a child who goes to brush their teeth and leaves a rim of dried on toothpaste scum in their wake.

So here’s what I want to know. If toothpaste is a health and hygiene product and something that we should use at least twice a day, then why does the whole industry have to be turned into such a marketing companies dream and a buyers nightmare. Why can’t they just make ONE toothpaste that does the lot. Toothpaste at the end of the day is just toothpaste and I find it very hard to believe that the ingredients in each of the 24 different types that Colgate produces can vary so much as to warrant a different name, packaging and price tag.

This overwhelming choice aside, what no doubt has that Tooth Fairy shaking her head in horror is the effect that some of these toothpaste can have on your teeth.

For years I have been coveting the Hollywood smile and buying anything with ‘Whitening’ on the box. Are my teeth any whiter for it? Of course they aren’t. Instead they are now so sensitive that eating an ice cream on a windy day can be something of a challenge. I am also forced into the ‘Sensitive’ toothpaste section, one that funnily enough comes at twice the price for half the tube. If I was that way inclined I’d say there was a definite whiff of a conspiracy to be had here. Much the same as if Benson & Hedges sold you cigarettes for years and then charged you double the price again for a new set of lungs.

Of course I am without a doubt the gullible mug for believing what I read on the packet, especially given what I do for a living. My common sense tells me that the promise of gain always results in some sort of pain. But it does make you wonder how safe on our teeth are these Whitening toothpastes over many years of constant brushing abuse?

Are there cages of guinea pigs stowed away somewhere with perfect smiles, but with teeth too brittle to bite through a sunflower seed?

Amongst the many offerings from Colgate there is even the ever so temptingly titled Baking Soda & Peroxide toothpaste. Can that really be safe? While baking soda is great for clearing out blocked drains and peroxide handy if your highlights are growing out, when it comes to teeth they both sound harsh enough to strip off all the enamel from a 100 paces.

Last year 3 brands of Chinese toothpaste, Tri Leaf Spearmint, Cool Mate and Heibeing were banned when they were found to have contained potentially lethal levels of a toxic chemical called DEG (diethylene glycol). This is an industrial solvent used in paint and anti freeze and can cause kidney and liver damage. Counterfeit Colgate toothpaste also turned up in the US last year, containing the same dangerous chemicals.

It’s enough to make you wonder what other hidden ingredients you are swilling around your mouth. Are we that generation of human guinea pigs so swayed by clever advertising and slick marketing that we are willing to use anything if it sounds to good to be true? And if so, which parts of our bodies will be turning green and dropping off in years to come?

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