Choosing the right toothpaste

What You Need to Know to Pick the Right Toothpaste

In the early 1800s, toothpaste was made of chalk and soap. It's come a long way since then. Many toothpastes today contain ingredients like fluoride, mild abrasives, sudsing detergents, thickening agents, and flavorings.

Eye-grabbing packaging and advertising campaigns may only add to your confusion about which toothpaste to use. Toothpastes promise to prevent cavities, whiten teeth, control tartar, fight gum disease, or freshen breath, to name a few. But do toothpastes really deliver on these promises? And which type should you buy? Choosing toothpaste doesn't have to be difficult.

Where to Start

The American Dental Association's (ADA) Seal of Acceptance program can help you narrow down the search. Toothpaste manufacturers can apply for the seal by conducting clinical trials and turning in their results. The ADA evaluates their data. Then, it grants the seal to toothpastes that meet their standards for being safe and effective.

The Basics

Most dental experts and organizations agree that fluoride is the first thing you should look for in a toothpaste. Fluoride is a mineral naturally found in water. Some even say fluoride is the only ingredient you really need. That's because it protects teeth. It can also help repair the early stages of decay.

It is so effective that most local governments add this mineral to their water supplies. This helps protect people's teeth. Fluoridated water reduces tooth decay by as much as 40 percent. All toothpastes that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain fluoride.

Beyond the Basics

Fluoride may be all you need in a toothpaste. But you probably want more. You can choose toothpastes that help do different things, such as:

  • Whiten teeth. These products do not contain teeth-whitening bleaches. Instead, they use chemicals or polishing agents to remove surface stains. This may make teeth appear brighter.

  • Control tartar. These toothpastes can help reduce tartar or calculus — the hard deposits that collect on the roots or crowns of teeth.

  • Prevent gum disease. Plaque is a naturally occurring, sticky substance made mostly of bacteria that builds up on teeth and can cause cavities and gum disease. These toothpastes control plaque. They can also help reduce gingivitis. Gingivitis is a mild inflammation of the gum tissue.

  • Freshen breath. These products may contain active agents that combat bad breath. They either kill the bacteria in plaque that cause bad breath or neutralize bad odors.

  • Desensitize the teeth. Certain products can help prevent cold, acidic, and sweet foods from irritating the nerves and causing tooth discomfort.

And manufacturers claim some newer toothpastes can even do it all. They fight plaque, tartar, cavities, and gingivitis; remove stains; desensitize the teeth; and freshen the breath.

If you're still stumped, ask your dentist or dental hygienist for help.


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"Bad Breath." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Fluoridation Facts." American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Fluoride: Nature's Cavity Fighter." American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Glossary of Dental Clinical and Administrative Terms." American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Sensitive Teeth." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"The History of Dental Advances." Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007. Accessed 2013.

"Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients." American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Why Is Brushing with Toothpaste Important?"  Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. Accessed 2013.

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