What to Look for When Choosing Toothpaste

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woman choosing toothpaste in grocery aisle

We all learn from a young age about the importance of brushing our teeth. Bushing twice a day removes plaque from your teeth, which in turn prevents tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. But choosing which toothpaste to brush with can be overwhelming, as there are many different options and brands available. Whereas 50 years ago, most people stuck to brushing with pure baking soda, today the toothpaste aisle is full of products offering diverse features and functions.

Fluoride: A Tooth’s Best Friend

The number one thing to look for in a toothpaste is fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral included in toothpaste and drinking water because it strengthens the tooth enamel and makes it more resistant to decay. By strengthening the tooth, fluoride cuts down on cavities, one of the major causes of tooth loss. All toothpastes with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance must contain fluoride, so look out for the seal when you’re shopping for a new toothpaste. If you see a toothpaste that claims it helps with cavity protection or prevention, make sure it has fluoride in it—that’s the best way to keep your mouth cavity-free.

Whitening Toothpastes

Many people desire white teeth, and using whitening toothpaste is very fashionable. As long as the whitening toothpaste has fluoride in it, I’m all for it. Whitening toothpastes contain compounds that help remove stains on the surface of your teeth, including baking soda and abrasives. To remove set-in stains, you’ll need to use special whitening strips or trays, but for external stains, whitening toothpaste can be quite effective. Keep in mind that some people are allergic to whitening compounds, so if your gums start to get sore and bright red, switch to another toothpaste and see if they get back to normal. If not, make an appointment to see your dentist to investigate further.

Tartar Control Toothpastes

Tartar, also known as calculus, is what we call plaque when it’s started to calcify. If you brush and floss daily, you should be able to remove plaque so it doesn’t develop into tartar. But for those who leave plaque sitting on their teeth, tartar can start to form. This is a big problem because tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing, and over time it will irritate and damage your gums by collecting more plaque, leading to gum disease. Once tartar forms, only a dental professional can remove it, but brushing with a tartar control toothpaste every day can prevent tartar from building up in the first place. Tartar control toothpaste contains compounds like sodium pyrophosphate and triclosan, which kill bacteria in the mouth and prevent plaque from building up. As with whitening toothpastes, some ingredients in tartar control toothpaste can cause allergic reactions, so change your toothpaste if you notice your gums are bright red and sore while using these products.

Toothpastes for Sensitive Teeth

Sometimes, my patients brush their teeth with too much pressure, which causes the roots of the teeth to become exposed and really sensitive. Eating and drinking very cold or very hot items can be difficult with sensitive teeth, so I recommend these patients try a toothpaste especially formulated to reduce sensitivity. They can be very helpful and I’ve seen lots of success with these toothpastes, although patients should know they take several weeks to work. These toothpastes contain ingredients that block the exposed nerve endings on the roots of your teeth. Often, I tell my patients to actually rub some of the toothpaste directly on the sensitive part of the tooth and leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing it off. This method seems to work a bit faster than just brushing with the toothpaste.

Navigating the Toothpaste Aisle

Picking a toothpaste is a very individualized decision; everyone has different goals for their oral health. The number one thing to look for in your toothpaste is fluoride. You also want to make sure your toothpaste doesn’t contain any sugar, because believe it or not, some flavored toothpastes do. Beyond that, if your toothpaste carries the ADA Seal of Acceptance, you can’t go wrong. The most important part of brushing your teeth isn’t necessarily the toothpaste you choose; it’s the fact that you brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and floss once a day. By following this routine, you’ll keep your teeth and gums looking and feeling healthy.

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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
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