Jim Heffernan column: Add toothpaste to America’s problems

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” Hmmm.

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Jim Heffernan (News Tribune)
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Today we will be discussing toothpaste problems. Well, I really mean “I” will be discussing toothpaste problems in hopes that intrepid readers who forge ahead beyond this sentence will recognize similar toothpaste problems and learn there is absolutely nothing they can do to rectify them.

I know what you’re thinking: What could he possibly mean by toothpaste problems? Haven’t we got enough problems in this country without adding toothpaste? Heavens!

So I will elaborate. For many years I have occasionally taken on the responsibility of shopping for toothpaste for our family, and did so a good deal of the time in my earlier life, too. Much earlier life.

It will come as a surprise to no one when I say I have been around for a long time. So I remember the glorious day in America when a parent could say to a child, “Run up to the corner store and pick up a tube of toothpaste.” Just the kind of task I enjoyed as a child, although I’d rather pick up peanut butter.

I already knew we were Colgate toothpaste people. Never anything but. So it was easy to pick out a tube of toothpaste and run back home. All toothpaste was pretty much the same. Six-inch tubes with a screw-top cap that, when squeezed with the cap off toothpaste, came oozing out on your toothbrush (be sure to brush vertically and not horizontally). Life was easy. Life was good.


But there were interruptions to this placid existence. All of a sudden the radio was blasting: “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” Hmmm.

So you’d smile broadly before the bathroom mirror with your teeth clenched and, by George, they did seem kind of yellow.

That’s when we became Pepsodent people. Besides, it had a minty taste that was appealing to anyone who liked mint. Same kind of container — remove the screw-off cap, squeeze and brush. When it started to wane in the tube, roll it up from the bottom, and you were good to go for another month or so. (Confession: I was never quick to roll it up from the bottom.)

And then there was the short period in our family life when we adopted a toothpaste called Vademecum . We felt very special due to our switch to Vademecum, like maybe we were brushing like the rich or something. Besides, we’d heard through the grapevine that it was imported from Sweden, native land of some of our ancestors. Vademecum didn’t last, though. Later we heard it was from France anyway.

As life went on, we found ourselves wondering where the yellow went less and less. And then suddenly and without warning came television and the birth of Crest. (My, that has a ring to it.) Any lingering toothpaste problems were believed to be over thanks to new Crest.

These were television’s black-and-white early days. That’s what TV commercials can do to you. Like today’s commercials for insurance: You don’t know whether to go with the weasel or woodchucks or maybe the turkey. Confusing if you don’t know a thing or two about insurance or wonder how farmers learned so much about insurance if they are so busy toiling in their fields.

But back to toothpaste problems. Segue to today — 2020 C.E. (Crest Era) and counting. We are still with Crest, as much out of habit as anything. But which Crest? You don’t just go to the store and grab a tube of Crest. You have to choose among variations on Crest like Crest “gum and sensitivity with all-day protection” or Crest with “gum detoxification all day with or without whitening,” not to mention enamel care, “radiant mint” or something called “blast whitening.”

Then there’s the choice between a flip-top cap and the old fashioned screw top. Sigh.


So you stand in the aisle of the store, scratching your head, trying to decide which kind of one brand of toothpaste would be best for your sanity, not to mention your teeth.

That is what I mean by “toothpaste problems.” They are Insoluble.

Oh, how I long for the day in America when you could just grab a tube of whatever toothpaste was handy in the store and expect the same result when you got up in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and brushed those ivories to start your day, no strings attached.

Oops. Did I say no strings attached? Don’t get me started on flossing. Please.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by e-mail at

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at
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