smiley tubes of toothpasteThe variety of products available to consumers has drastically increased over the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, that increase in choice hasn’t made our ability to choose any easier. This increase in variety has certainly extended to oral healthcare products, and toothpaste is a classic example. Grocery stores and pharmacies stock countless options: mint, cinnamon, whitening, fluoride, sensitive, extra-sensitive, extra-extra-sensitive… how do we decide? The choice you make does matter, but it’s really not that difficult. Read below to find out what type of toothpaste is best for your unique mouth.

What is toothpaste?

There are a million types of toothpaste, but there are about five ingredients that all toothpastes contain. There’s the abrasive agent, that softly scratches the surface of your teeth. This removes the bacteria and food that cause bad breath. Then there’s usually the flavoring, whether it’s mint or vanilla or cinnamon, to improve the flavor of your paste. Then there’s a humectant, which is just a fancy word for what keeps it from drying out, and a thickener to, that’s right, thicken it. Finally, there’s the detergent, which gives you the suds that help you know it’s toothpaste.

Those are the basics you’ll find in almost all toothpastes. But from there, it starts to vary. Following are different pastes for different needs:

Fluoride: Fluoride is a crucial ingredient in your mouth’s health. By strengthening tooth enamel and reversing early stages of decay, fluoride protects your teeth in a way nothing else can. Most cities in the United States have added fluoride to their water supplies by now, but research shows you should still add a fluorinated toothpaste to your oral health care regimen.

Tartar control: Bacteria causes plaque. Plaque turns into tartar. Tartar buildup causes gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. If you have problems with excessive plaque, avoid gum disease by using tartar control toothpaste. These toothpaste use a variety of ingredients to prevent tartar buildup–look for something that contains multiple anti-plaque ingredients for the highest protection.

Sensitive teeth: If your tooth sensitivity has you avoiding hot or cold beverages and foods, try a toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate or strontium chloride. It may take up to four weeks for you to notice the effects, but toothpastes with these ingredients have been proven effective at blocking the pathways that lead to sensitive nerve endings in the teeth. (Note: an anti-sensitivity toothpaste can help mild sensitivity, but severely sensitive teeth are a problem you should talk to your dentist about.)

Whitening toothpaste: Toothpastes that offer brighter smiles don’t actually contain bleach, rather abrasive (and safe) particles that either polish your teeth or bind to stains to lift them from the surface. If you’re looking for a cheaper, safe option for whiter teeth, a whitening toothpaste might be just what you need.

OK, now I know the basics. But how do I choose?

First of all, make sure your toothpaste is ADA approved. That seal means it’s been tested by scientists for safety and effectiveness. And all toothpastes that are approved by the ADA contain fluoride, which we’ve already established is one big key to your mouth’s health. Aside from that, the most important thing is to know your options, and choose what best meets your needs. Try a few, and see what works best for you and your family.