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What should you look for in your toothpaste, floss and mouthwash?

When shopping for oral health care products, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many different brands and varieties of toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. Fortunately, you can ask your dentist or dental hygienist for help and follow this guide to help you make the best decisions.

The American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance is featured on products that provide sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy. Even oral care products that don’t have this seal must be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Toothpaste

Different toothpastes contain many of the same ingredients, including:

  • Mild abrasive
  • Flavorings
  • Thickening agent
  • Detergent
  • Humectants (keep toothpaste from drying out)

To prevent tooth decay when brushing, it is important to choose a toothpaste that contains fluoride. People who have concerns about chemical ingredients may prefer a natural toothpaste, although these products often do not contain cavity-fighting fluoride. In addition to not containing fluoride, some trendy charcoal-activated toothpastes or DIY versions contain acidic or abrasive ingredients that can damage teeth.

Depending on your needs, you may also want to check the label to see if the toothpaste can do more, such as:

  • Reduce gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Control tartar
  • Prevent bad breath
  • Whiten teeth
  • Desensitize teeth with exposed roots or dentin (layer of material under the enamel)

Floss

Flossing daily is vital for removing plaque and food particles in places where your toothbrush cannot effectively reach. It helps reduce the risk of tooth decay, gingivitis and more severe gum diseases — whether you use traditional floss, interdental brushes (small brushes that clean between teeth), floss picks or floss with a built-in threader.

Flossing regularly and correctly is more important than the type of floss you use. Floss can be waxed or unwaxed, although it makes no difference in its effectiveness. If there is not much space between your teeth, you may find waxed floss easier to use.

Mouthwash

Like floss, mouthwash may help reach areas that a toothbrush can’t. But it’s not a substitute for brushing twice a day.

All mouthwash will temporarily freshen breath and clean debris from teeth. However, you should look for a mouthwash that also kills the bacteria that cause odors and cavities. The active ingredients in some mouthwashes, when combined with brushing and flossing, can help improve your oral health. For instance:

  • Cetylpyridinium chloride can control plaque and gingivitis and reduce bad breath
  • Chlorhexidine and essential oils can control plaque and gingivitis
  • Fluoride can prevent tooth decay
  • Peroxide can help whiten discolored teeth

Children 6 years of age and younger shouldn’t use mouthwash because they could swallow large amounts, potentially resulting in nausea, vomiting and intoxication from the alcohol in some versions.

You don’t have to go to the store to compare brands. You can learn more about different products’ claims, ingredients and pricing online.