A TV ad for Colgate Sensitive Repair and Prevent toothpaste, seen in August 2018, featured a voice-over which stated, "Are you on autopilot when it comes to sensitive teeth, using a toothpaste that just numbs the pain? Switch to Colgate Sensitive Repair and Prevent. It repairs teeth instantly and helps strengthen gums, preventing sensitivity". On-screen text stated "Apply directly with finger for 1 minute. Use twice a day" and "Potential prevention of sensitivity refers to potential recession by helping reduce gum inflammation".
Six complainants challenged whether the claim "repairs teeth instantly" was misleading and could be substantiated.
Colgate-Palmolive (U.K) Ltd said that the Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpastes were CE-marked medical devices.
They said that the claim was made for sensitivity toothpaste and believed that it was clear from the context of the ad that the claim referred to repairing of teeth in order to relieve pain caused by sensitivity, and that this was emphasised further by the on-screen text. They said that the toothpaste formulation contained arginine and calcium carbonate (called the Pro-Argin formula) which was exclusive to Colgate. They said the toothpaste delivered a surface coating which acted as a reparative layer on the enamel surface. They said this repaired enamel by filling microscopic cracks and imperfections in enamel caused by common acidic foods and drinks. They provided four clinical studies and CE certification documents in support of the claim.
Clearcast said that they had concerns about the initial script but approved the claim on the basis of the on-screen text. They provided letters from the Regional Knowledge Management Lead in Oral Care (Europe) for Colgate, which said that one main cause of hypersensitivity was receding gums with exposed dentin tubules being connected to nerve triggering pain in sensitive teeth. They said that occluding ingredients such as ProArgin technology promoted tubule closure and consequently pain trigger was stopped.
The ad began with a row of people brushing their teeth with a toothbrush, at which point the voice-over stated, “Are you on autopilot when it comes to sensitive teeth, using a toothpaste that just numbs the pain?”. The voice-over then stated, “Switch to Colgate Sensitive Repair and Prevent”. Alongside that, the ASA considered that viewers would understand the claim “repairs teeth instantly” to mean that by brushing teeth with Colgate Sensitive Repair and Prevent in a conventional manner, the product was able to restore sensitive teeth to a healthy condition by way of immediately treating the underlying cause of sensitivity. We noted the on-screen text stated that the product worked by applying the toothpaste directly with a finger for one minute, twice a day. However, we did not consider that this altered the impression that the product had a restorative effect on the teeth.
We understood that sensitive teeth occurred when the dentin was exposed. The dentin layer of the tooth sits between the enamel on the ordinarily visible part of the tooth and the pulp, which contains nerves and tissues. It also sits behind the gum line on the part of the tooth that is not usually visible. We understood, consequently, that the two main causes of tooth sensitivity were worn enamel and recession of the gums, which both exposed the dentin.
We acknowledged the four studies provided, each of which concluded significant reductions in dentin hypersensitivity after direct application of the toothpaste. However, we did not consider a product that provided relief against sensitivity by acting as a barrier to match the likely expectation that a restorative effect on the teeth occurred. We had seen no evidence that the product was able to regenerate enamel that had worn away, restore receding gums, or consequently that teeth had been immediately restored to a healthy condition through use of the product.
Because the ad implied that the product had a restorative effect on sensitive teeth and that was not the case, we concluded that the claim “repairs teeth instantly” was misleading and had not been substantiated.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Colgate-Palmolive (U.K) Ltd to ensure that they did not make claims that products could repair teeth instantly unless they held evidence that substantiated that claim.