The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Toothpaste

You push your cart through the grocery store as you check items off your shopping list. Food for dinner: check. Snacks for the kids: check. Laundry detergent: check. Notebook paper: check. Shampoo: check. You have just one item left on your list: toothpaste. You round the corner to the toothpaste aisle, intending to grab the first thing you see.

But as you gaze down the aisle, you realize the toothpaste aisle is perhaps the most confusing, overwhelming aisle in the entire store. With literally hundreds of choices in front of you, you start to wonder which product you should choose. A whitening toothpaste? Maybe one with baking soda? What about fluoride? And what does “tartar control” even mean?

We’ll be the first to admit that choosing a toothpaste is easier said than done. So to help you make sense of all the flavours, cleaning agents, and warning labels, we’ve put together the following guide. Use the information in this guide to choose a toothpaste that is fit for you and your family.

Toothpaste 101: Common Ingredients Explained

Although toothpaste is available in many forms and flavours, there are a few staple ingredients you’ll find in every product.

These staple ingredients include:

  • Abrasive agents, such as calcium carbonate and silica gels. Abrasive agents scrub food, bacteria, and stains from the surface of your teeth and gums.
  • Detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate. Detergents, also known as foaming agents, produce the suds you see as you brush. These suds assist abrasive agents and aid in the cleaning process.
  • Humectants, such as glycerol. Humectants help toothpastes retain moisture.
  • Thickeners, like seaweed molecules and various gums. Thickeners do just what their name describes—they thicken toothpaste and give it its distinct texture.
  • Artificial flavouring, such as saccharin. Artificial flavours do little more than make toothpaste products taste better and encourage people to brush their teeth.

Toothpaste 201: Different Types of Toothpaste Explained

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic ingredients in toothpaste, you can educate yourself on the various types of toothpaste.

Fluoride Toothpaste
Most dentists agree that fluoride is the single most important ingredient to look for in a toothpaste. Fluoride, strengthens tooth enamel and prevents decay. Almost all toothpastes contain some amount of fluoride, but some people require a little extra fluoride to properly protect their teeth.

If you or a family member has a history of cavities, opt for a toothpaste with extra fluoride. The extra fluoride will prevent existing early (‘incipient’) cavities from growing, and will also bolster teeth’s ability to withstand acid erosion.

You shouldn’t, however, give toothpastes with extra fluoride to children. Because children’s teeth are still developing, they are at a high risk of developing fluorosis, a condition that causes permanent discolouration. Once you are sure your child is capable of not swallowing toothpaste while brushing, a normal fluoride toothpaste is adequate for cavity prevention

Whitening Toothpaste
Whitening toothpastes don’t actually whiten your teeth. Instead, they use abrasive particles—like carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide—to polish the surface of your teeth. As these products lift surface stains, your teeth will look whiter because there won’t be any visible debris or buildup on your teeth.

Whitening toothpastes are milder than professional whitening products, but they tend to be significantly more abrasive than other toothpastes. Avoid them if you have sensitive gums or damaged tooth enamel.

Baking Soda Toothpaste
If you have damaged tooth enamel but you still want your teeth to appear whiter, opt for a baking soda toothpaste. Baking soda is abrasive enough to remove surface stains, but gentle enough to not cause irritation.

Also, because baking soda is a weak base, it counteracts acid’s harmful effects on your teeth. If you eat a lot of acid-rich foods, like citrus fruits, choose a baking soda toothpaste.

Tartar Control Toothpaste
No matter how often you brush, plaque will accumulate on your teeth. If left alone, plaque will eventually harden into tartar. Tartar latches onto teeth and gums, often causing cavities and gum disease.

Not only do tartar control toothpastes contain extra fluoride, they also contain triclosan, an antibiotic that kills bacteria. They also contain zinc citrate and a variety of pyrophosphates, which combine to control plaque buildup.

Choose a tartar control toothpaste if you have a history of plaque and tartar problems.

Tooth Sensitivity Toothpaste
If you struggle with tooth sensitivity, some toothpastes may cause pain and irritation when you use them. If this is the case, choose tooth sensitivity toothpaste.

These toothpastes use “low abrasion” compounds, such as potassium nitrate or strontium chloride, to clean teeth and alleviate sensitivity.

Children’s Toothpaste
Not only do children’s toothpastes come in tastier flavours, they also contain milder ingredients. Children’s toothpastes use less abrasive cleaning agents and smaller amounts of fluoride to prevent damage to children’s teeth.

Next time you’re at the grocery store, don’t let the diverse array of toothpaste choices overwhelm you. Simply keep this information in mind to make a choice that is best for you and your family. Remember that most people will benefit from fluoride and tartar control. Use a less abrasive toothpaste, including a sensitivity toothpaste if you have sensitive teeth. If you have any additional questions on which toothpaste best suits your needs, consult with your Red Deer dentist at Parkland Mall Dental Centre.