A refreshing guide to toothpaste

It has long been recommended to brush twice daily and floss once a day to maintain good oral health. Brushing and flossing help remove plaque and leftover food from your teeth and gums. A key component of brushing is the toothpaste you use — it can have many more benefits than just leaving your breath feeling fresh and clean.

Toothpastes share many common ingredients for more specific health purposes. There are active ingredients for accomplishing tasks like preventing tooth decay, gum disease or tooth sensitivity and inactive ingredients that do things like determine the taste and texture of the toothpaste.

So how should you choose between the many types of toothpaste available to you? Get to know more about toothpaste so you can make the best decision for you and your family.

The most important ingredient

Fluoride is the key ingredient in anti-cavity toothpastes. This mineral protects teeth from cavities by strengthening enamel — the hard outer surface of teeth — and helps reduce the number of bacteria in plaque. This natural cavity fighter can also reverse the early stages of tooth decay by adding minerals to areas that have begun to decay. Fluoride is so effective that it has been the major factor in a large decrease in cavities over the last 50-plus years.

Common toothpaste ingredients

Do all toothpastes look the same to you? In some ways they are because almost all toothpastes contain:

  • Mild abrasive agents to help remove debris, bacteria, and surface stains
  • Humectants that keep toothpaste from drying out or becoming gummy
  • Flavoring for a sweeter taste and fresh scent
  • Thickeners that help toothpaste retain its texture
  • Detergent to promote foaming and cleaning

Extra benefits

In addition to the basics, toothpaste can contain ingredients that help with:

  • Fighting plaque and gum disease with anti-bacterial ingredients
  • Whitening your teeth by removing more surface stains than regular toothpaste
  • Reducing tooth sensitivity by helping block pain associated with sensitive teeth
  • Controlling tartar with ingredients that help reduce and prevent tartar

Whitening toothpastes only remove surface stains, which doesn’t change the natural color of your teeth.

Tips for choosing the right toothpaste

Talk to your dentist first. If you have a special condition, like sensitive teeth, gum disease, or you form a lot of tartar that will benefit from a certain kind of toothpaste, your dentist can make a personalized recommendation.

Fluoride is the absolute must-have ingredient to look for when choosing toothpaste. Not all toothpastes contain decay-preventing fluoride, so don’t assume everything on the shelf is equal. All toothpastes that have earned the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval contain fluoride.

For children, use a fluoride toothpaste in a flavor they like so they will be more likely to brush. Children ages 3 and under should only have a grain of rice-sized amount on their toothbrush. From age 3 and up, a small pea-sized amount on the brush is all that’s needed. Make sure kids under 8 years old don’t swallow toothpaste as too much can discolor teeth.

Avoid trendy charcoal and homemade toothpastes. Charcoal is abrasive and can damage enamel, leading to tooth sensitivity. DIY toothpaste is missing all-important fluoride. Neither charcoal nor DIY toothpaste have proven benefits for your teeth.

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