How do I choose a toothpaste?
October 9, 2017 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I was at the store looking at the dozens (scores, even?) of toothpaste options, all with various formulations and claims, and it occurred to me that I know nothing about how much of it actually works and what I should be using. What's real, what's not, and how do I know which of the multifarious brands and models to choose?
posted by Pope Guilty to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
What are your needs?

Do you have sensitive teeth? Fluoride: yes or no? Are you looking for a whitening toothpaste?

Have you asked your dentist and/or hygienist what they recommend based on their examination of your mouth?

That would be a place to start. Good luck!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 1:20 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

My dentist, who I trust, told me all drugstore toothpastes are pretty much the same. I like to get one with fluoride for cavity protection. The 24 hour clean one seems like a gimmick to me, because I brush my teeth at least twice per day!
posted by stillmoving at 1:25 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

If you have sensitive teeth, Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening.
If you have normal teeth but you want them brighter, Colgate Optic White.
If you just want a toothpaste that does toothpaste things, Colgate Total.
If your tongue feels burny with most toothpaste flavors and you just want a toothpaste that does toothpaste things, Crest Pro Health.

Don't think about it too hard and just let someone else do the deciding for you ^
posted by phunniemee at 1:27 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]

There is one perfect toothpaste that is not sold in the US but can be ordered internationally on Amazon at a very reasonable cost. It's proven to be better at preserving enamel and dental work. I've used it a couple of years and love it more than any other I've used. It's called "Sensodyne Repair and Protect," which is also sold in the US but without the innovative bioglass ingredient "Biomin."

Once you use it you'll never go back. Multiple sellers on amazon offer it from Europe and Asia. It has all the sensitivity protection of regular Sensodyne but Biomin is a breakthrough technology that is clinically proven to be very effective at restoring enamel. The story behind why it isn't sold in the US is a farce. It's safe. It's sold everywhere else in the world.

I buy it in bulk and it isn't expensive. If I couldn't get it I'd be very sad. It's noticeably better from the moment you start using it. Biggest innovation since fluoride.
posted by spitbull at 1:29 PM on October 9 [26 favorites]

Sorry, it's called "Novamin" in sensodyne toothpaste, not "Biomin." And it is proven to actually *restore* damaged enamel.

Clinical trial review.
posted by spitbull at 1:35 PM on October 9 [8 favorites]

Regarding Colgate Total, recommended above - I would avoid this as it contains trilocsan, recently banned from liquid soap but for whatever reason, not from toothpaste.
posted by beisny at 1:36 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

The correct answer is the toothpaste tube that costs a dollar. I think it was 'Aim' this time around, and Crest the last time. Look around and you'll find it.
posted by Dmenet at 1:46 PM on October 9 [4 favorites]

I started using CloSYS toothpaste and mouthwash after I had some gum problems and I love it. I never thought I’d have any strong opinions about toothpaste, but this stuff makes my mouth feel very clean and it totally got rid of some inflammation I had. I order it on amazon. The mouthwash comes with a little bottle of peppermint oil to flavor it to your tastes.
posted by oomny at 1:55 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

If you happen to suffer regularly from mouth ulcers, try switching to a toothpaste that doesn't have the very common ingredient sodium lauryl sulphate. Made an inordinate difference to my qol by virtually eliminating this liveable with, but in retrospect really depressing semi-constant low level discomfort.
posted by protorp at 1:58 PM on October 9 [8 favorites]

My husband has worked in the dental field for over 25 years and worked with tons of dentists. The guy he liked best (and who is a phenomenal, but very treatment-conservative dentist) used to say that you've got to get down on the floor on your hands and knees to find the best toothpaste, because they're the ones that cost $1 and don't spend money on marketing. Your needs may vary if you have sensitive teeth, but a lot of it's just marketing.
posted by jabes at 2:01 PM on October 9 [5 favorites]

There is absolutely scientific evidence for the actions of some ingredients in toothpaste, especially fluoride and bioglass silicates for enamel protection and cavity prevention, peroxide for whitening, and potassium nitrate and strontium acetate for sensitivity. The brand may not matter but the ingredients do. Conversely there are real irritants for some people in some formulations.

Also a counter argument I've heard from dentists to the "cheapest is best" argument is that the best toothpaste is one you like enough to brush your teeth more often and for longer per session. So taste and sensation do matter. Not that there isn't huge marketing BS apparatus at work, but the very cheapest toothpaste may or not really be the best and like all folkloric knowledge there's a grain of truth to it but it's also somewhat wrong.

Also remember that VERY cheap toothpaste can be found in the supply chain and may contain toxins. There have been multiple incidents of counterfeit "branded" toothpaste imported from China especially and sold mostly in "dollar" stores that have contained dangerous or deadly ingredients. Here was a well known case from 2007.

Cheap is good. Cheapest may not be so good.
posted by spitbull at 2:31 PM on October 9 [8 favorites]

I've always stuck with Colgate because I lived near a Colgate factory as a kid and loved watching the trucks. Plus it seemed like they were making it for me as the trucks went up the hill towards the local supermarket and as far as I knew, no further.

Once it's narrowed down to one brand, I go for one of their bog standard varieties. Big tube, no fancy gimmicks. One with fluoride.
posted by kitten magic at 2:36 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

I also use one of the Sensodynes without SLS, but because SLS gives me dry mouth.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:53 PM on October 9

I use Ipana, an ancient brand by toothpaste years, cheap but works just fine for "toothpaste stuff."
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:03 PM on October 9

Unless you have sensitive teeth, nothing matters except the flouride content, pretty much.

Avoid colgate total and anything else containing triclosan as it's contributing to the spread of resistant bacteria.
posted by smoke at 3:29 PM on October 9

You want stannous fluoride or NovaMin rather than sodium fluoride. I find NovaMin to taste bad (at least the Sensodyne Repair & Protect which I purchased in Europe), though. These ingredients are better at remineralizing enamel, thus preventing cavities and sensitivity. Many dentists and hygienists are not current on the research and do not know to make this recommendation.
posted by karbonokapi at 4:05 PM on October 9 [6 favorites]

Like some others have mentioned, I also try to avoid triclosan. Crest Pro Health is one option (it also has stannous fluoride as mentioned above). But I usually get Trader Joes' toothpaste, which is cheap, as long as you get it at the store and not online, and I personally like the taste, which is not sweet at all. It tastes like Toms.
posted by pinochiette at 4:25 PM on October 9

I've switched over to hello toothpaste since it has fun flavors. I asked my dentist about it and he said pretty much any toothpaste that has the ADA stamp on it is fine. :) Yes, I use kids toothpaste but before that I was using the adult pink grapefruit mint flavor which they've discontinued. I like it because it's not so minty that it hurts my mouth.
posted by sperose at 4:53 PM on October 9

IAAD and I can confirm that all toothpastes that carry the ADA seal are acceptable.

Toothpaste in its basic form is a flavored soap that removes plaque and stain from teeth. Fluoride is a very important ingredient added to help teeth fight decay (it works, really!), but it's the physical action of brushing that is doing the heavy lifting.

Other additives include baking soda and/or peroxide to help patients with periodontal disease and various mild abrasives to help control tartar. these have limited benefit.

whitening toothpastes are hype beyond the scrubbing action

Potassium nitrate is the active ingredient in sensodyne and it is very effective at reducing sensitivity, but it's a waste of money to use it as a toothpaste. i recommend patients get a tube and use a small amount directly on the sensitive areas at bedtime, then a tube lasts forever because you're not rinsing it away as you would if you brushed with it.

There are several TP's with minimal ingredients, like Tom's of Maine that are approved and work for patients who are allergic to dyes or flavorings.

Any toothpaste is better than no paste, but more is not better when it comes to ingredients. Brush twice a day and floss. see your dentist if you have symptoms and for periodic cleanings (no one interval is best for all patients).

Hope this helps
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:21 PM on October 9 [19 favorites]

I use arm & hammer because it's the only one I can stand the taste of.
posted by janey47 at 5:31 PM on October 9

I use a toothpaste that contains stannous fluoride at the recommendation of my dentist, but they would always say that toothpaste brand is less important than flossing daily and brushing thoroughly. My own experience after getting a cheap electric toothbrush and starting daily flossing bears that out; I used to get cavities relatively regularly, but that's pretty much no longer the case for me now.
posted by Aleyn at 6:12 PM on October 9

Thanks very much to everybody!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 PM on October 9

I used to buy all kinds of expensive brands at Whole Foods but several years back I said screw it and bought a big six pack of Kirkland Signature brand at Costco. Haven't looked back.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:08 PM on October 9

Seconding "Sensodyne Repair and Protect" with Novamin -- not only is the evidence for its effectiveness compelling, but it's a bit less strongly flavored than other toothpastes I've tried, which makes using it a much better experience than usual for me.
posted by amtho at 7:19 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]

karbonokapi, I am surprised you find Sensodyne R&P with Novamin has a distinctive taste you don't like (although of course I believe you). Mrs. Spitbull sometimes buys regular US (non-Novamin) Sensodyne and I can't tell the difference when I try hers.

Sorry to evangelize a product, but there are few products in my life that have lived up to the hype as much as Novamin toothpaste. Within a few days of starting to use it I was like "where has this been all my life and why the F isn't it sold in the US?"

The clinical evidence of its effectiveness is strong. Novamin is an inert ceramic. I have never ever cared about my toothpaste until I tried this stuff. Now I swear by it.

It costs about the same as regular Sensodyne even sent from Europe when I order it on Amazon.

But I would happily pay double the price. It's that good.
posted by spitbull at 3:06 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

In terms of finding one whose taste you'll enjoy, what I did a few years ago was to go to every grocery store, drugstore, and megamart in town, and buy whatever they had travel/sample sizes of. (If you travel often, hotel front desk will sometimes have single-use packets of toothpaste as well, and sometimes airport convenience stores.) Then, every time you brush your teeth, use a different toothpaste. If you don't like one, throw it away.

My problem at the time was that I was using Crest, and while my dental health seemed fine and it tasted OK, my mouth didn't actually feel "clean" - after brushing my teeth, I'd want to drink a glass of water and swish it around my mouth. I actually posted on Facebook about it, and several of my friends commented that they had the same problem. It's apparently a Crest thing. But Crest tastes like candy, so it has that going for it.

Eventually, I found my current toothpaste, Aquafresh Extreme Clean, which has made me happy. It was the cleanest-feeling, and it still tastes good. But taste is a personal matter, and you'll never know what tastes best to you until you try a bunch.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:25 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

If you hate minty ouchy things all up in your mouth I really recommend Toms of Maine silly strawberry. It's so bland that I can brush my teeth and drink coffee afterwards.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:22 AM on October 10

+1 for the Sensodyne with Novamin bandwagon: I purchased a tube when in a Hong Kong mall market and after I started using it, the dentist gave me a positive evaluation on my teeth and the hygienist asked me what I was using.

I ordered some online via Amazon that came from somewhere else and it was a lot more frothy. I preferred the one I got from Hong Kong, so even going the Novamin route, you may want to shop around to find the toothpaste that you like.
posted by Seboshin at 11:15 AM on October 10

I work at the American Dental Association (but IANA dentist) - my vote would be Sensodyne or Colgate Total. At least, that's what I buy. Look for the ADA logo.
posted by Windigo at 9:17 AM on October 11

Anyone happen to know what toothpastes with BioMin (first choice) or NovaMin (second) are available in Germany or The Netherlands? I'm in the US, you guys have convinced me to try one, and someone I know is traveling to those countries and would bring me some back. But I'd rather not ask them to read labels or send them on a wild goose chase for Sensodyne Repair & Protect if that's not available or not called that there.
posted by daisyace at 3:05 PM on October 13

Novamin is a trademark and patent of Glaxo Smith Kline pharmaceuticals (who own Sensodyne). It should be available under that brand name in Germany. I have ordered it from Austria before.
posted by spitbull at 5:33 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]

I bought a tube of UK Sensodyne Repair and Protect off Amazon and it seems good so far! I think there's been a slight whitening but I don't think that's something they promote.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:08 PM on October 21 [2 favorites]

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