Faced with dozens of different products promising to make your teeth fresher, whiter and cavity-free, it’s no wonder you wander aimlessly down the toothpaste aisle. To help you pick wisely, we turned to the pros for the scoop on what ingredients to look for, whether gel or paste formulas are right for you and just how much you need to squeeze onto your brush. It’s never too late to get your pearly whites in tip-top shape, so read on to find out how!
1. It’s all about the fluoride.
With a host of ingredients in toothpaste, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s essential. But no matter what your individual needs are (i.e., tartar control, whitening, breath-freshening and so on), dental hygienists agree that fluoride is a must. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice daily can reduce tooth decay by as much as 40 percent. “Even in areas where there is water fluoridation, the added fluoride in toothpaste has been shown to be very beneficial,” says Caryn Loftis-Solie, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygiene Association (ADHA).
2. Look for the seal of approval.
While it’s tempting to save some cash with a generic brand of toothpaste, you may actually be getting an ineffective—and potentially harmful—product. “You should always look for the ADA Seal when choosing a toothpaste,” says Clifford Whall, PhD, director of the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance Program. “Only those products have the scientific data to back up their claims and have been proven to meet our criteria for safety and effectiveness.” With 50-plus approved toothpastes on shelves, it’s easy to find a tube that’s right for you and your budget.
3. Whitening toothpastes work—at least to a certain degree.
Countless products promise a whiter smile, but do they really deliver? “Whitening toothpastes—like all toothpastes—contain mild abrasives to help remove surface stains on your teeth,” says Dr. Whall. “The shape of the particles used in whitening products, though, is modified to clean those stains away better, so you’ll see a noticeable difference in how your teeth look.” However, according to Dr. Whall, these products don’t contain bleach, making it impossible for them to brighten your smile as dramatically as professional whitening treatments.
4. Less is more.
Despite what you see on commercials, a brush full of toothpaste won’t clean your pearly whites any better than half that amount, according to E. Jane Crocker, RHD, president of the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists’ Association. “All you need is a pea-size amount of toothpaste—yes, I mean the little green vegetable!” Not only will that get the job done effectively (by cleaning and removing plaque, stains and food debris), you’ll also extend the life of your tube.
5. How you brush is more important than what you brush with.
You can buy the best toothpaste and toothbrush on the market, but if you aren’t brushing correctly you won’t see results. “To do it properly, you need to position the brush at a 45 degree angle so that you get some of the bristles in between the tooth and the gums,” says Dr. Whall. “Move the brush in small circles in those areas, and then continue on to the rest of the teeth. This process should take about one to two minutes to complete.” View the ADA’s step-by-step guide to brushing and flossing here.
6. Organic toothpastes can be just as effective as regular.
If you’re willing to spend a little more to go green, natural and organic toothpastes can be a good eco-friendly alternative to commercial brands—provided they contain fluoride. “Natural and organic toothpastes that include fluoride in their ingredients are as effective as regular toothpastes with fluoride,” says Crocker. You’ll also be avoiding artificial preservatives, sweeteners and dyes.
7. What’s inside your toothpaste might surprise you.
You may not recognize the names listed on the side of the tube, but ingredients like seaweed and detergent can be found in many fluoride toothpastes. According to the ADA, common thickening agents include seaweed colloids, mineral colloids and natural gums. And for that quintessential foaming action, most products rely on detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate—also found in many shampoos and body washes—that are deemed 100 percent safe and effective by the ADA.
8. Pastes or gels—they all do the trick.
You may have heard that one works better than the other but, according to the experts, they all clean teeth equally well. “Other than flavor, texture and how it makes a person feel, there aren’t any major differences among the various forms,” says Crocker. “I think it comes down to personal preference, which might come through trial and error. I encourage my patients to use whichever product encourages them to brush.”