Weighing Your Toothpaste Options

Just the number of options you have when you buy a tube of toothpaste can be overwhelming. Should you go for tartar control? Fluoride? Both? And don't forget to think about whitening toothpastes or formulas with all-natural ingredients.

When it comes to choosing the best toothpaste for you, it's important to think about your unique oral health needs.

Toothpaste Basics

Toothpaste is available in paste or gel. Despite the many types of toothpaste, there are some ingredients common to most varieties. These include:

  • Abrasive agents. Scratchy materials, including calcium carbonate and silicates, help remove food, bacteria, and some stains from your teeth.
  • Flavoring. Artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, are often added to toothpaste to make them taste better. While many people equate the flavor of toothpaste with mint, toothpaste is available in a variety of flavors, including cinnamon, lemon-lime, and even bubblegum (for kids -- or kids at heart).
  • Humectants for moisture retention. Paste and gel formulations often contain substances like glycerol to prevent the toothpaste from drying out.
  • Thickeners. Agents that add thickness to the toothpaste, including gums and gooey molecules found in some seaweeds, help achieve and maintain proper toothpaste texture.
  • Detergents. Those suds you see when you brush your teeth are from detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate.

Fluoride Toothpaste

The most important ingredient to look for when choosing toothpaste is fluoride.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. Its use has been instrumental in the dramatic drop in tooth decay and cavity occurrence that has taken place over the past 50 years. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and starches that remain on your teeth after eating. Fluoride helps protect your teeth from the acid that is released when this happens. It does this in two ways. First, fluoride makes your tooth enamel stronger and less likely to suffer acid damage. Second, it can reverse the early stages of acid damage by remineralizing areas that have started to decay.

Using fluoride toothpaste is an important way to ensure that your teeth are reaping the benefits of this dental-friendly mineral. Don't think you can skip fluoride if you live in an area where the water is fluoridated. Studies have shown that using fluoride toothpaste helps increase the concentration of fluoride in the teeth, even in areas with water supplies containing high levels of the mineral.

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Tartar Control Toothpaste

There are many tartar control toothpastes on the market, most of which contain fluoride.

Everyone has a layer of bacteria on their teeth called plaque. If plaque isn't removed promptly with proper oral hygiene, it hardens into tartar. This hard-to-remove deposit can build up on your teeth and under your gums, ultimately leading to gum disease.

There are a variety of ingredients used in toothpaste to help prevent the buildup of tartar on the teeth. Chemical compounds, including pyrophosphates and zinc citrate, are often added and have been proven effective. Additionally, some tartar control toothpastes contain an antibiotic called triclosan, which kills some of the bacteria in the mouth.

Certain toothpastes containing multiple anti-plaque agents have been demonstrated to be even more effective at tartar control than varieties with only one plaque fighter.

Toothpastes for Sensitive Teeth

For people who have teeth that are easily irritated -- for instance, by hot or cold temperatures -- there are toothpastes available that are made for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes usually contain potassium nitrate or strontium chloride. These chemical compounds, which can take up to 4 weeks to offer relief, help tooth sensitivity by blocking pathways through the teeth that attach to nerves inside the teeth.

Whitening Toothpaste

To help people on a quest for pearly whites, many whitening toothpastes are now being marketed for everyday use.

Whitening toothpastes do not typically contain bleaches. Instead, they contain abrasive particles or chemicals that effectively polish the teeth or bind to stains and help pull them off the tooth surface.

Although you might be concerned that the abrasiveness of whitening toothpaste could damage your teeth, studies suggest that whitening toothpastes are no harder on tooth enamel than other types of toothpaste.

Tips for Choosing a Toothpaste

Here are some tips to help you choose the best toothpaste to meet your family's dental needs:

  • Opt for ADA approval. Whatever your toothpaste needs, be sure to choose toothpaste that has earned an American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. Toothpastes that have earned this distinction have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness by an independent review board of scientific experts. All toothpastes earning the ADA seal contain fluoride -- the most important ingredient in any toothpaste.
  • Be wary of imposters. In 2007, some toothpastes imported from China were found to contain a toxic substance, diethylene glycol. The FDA advises against choosing toothpaste that says it was made in China.
  • Consider your needs and the needs of your family members. As long as you select a fluoride-containing toothpaste, the best toothpaste is a matter of personal choice and preference. If you're committed to an all-natural lifestyle, you may want to opt for ADA-approved toothpastes that contain only natural ingredients. For people trying to instill good oral hygiene habits in your children, why not choose fruit-flavored toothpastes with sparkles to entice them to brush their teeth? Some people are eager to restore whiteness to their teeth with whitening toothpastes. Others like the feeling of brushing their teeth with toothpaste containing hydrogen peroxide or baking soda.

With so many options and combinations available, you can try different brands, varieties, and flavors to find the best toothpaste for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on June 09, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

American Dental Association: "ADA Seal of Acceptance Program."

American Dental Association: "Keeping Teeth Bright and Healthy."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Oral Health: Brushing and Toothpaste."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Oral Health: Fluoride."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "FDA Advises Consumers to Avoid Toothpaste From China Containing Harmful Chemical."

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