Toothpastes come in a wide range of types and flavors
When you're buying a new tube of toothpaste, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming and consumers and dentists tend to have disparate priorities. Most users look for palatable flavor, good consistency (neither too runny nor too hard) and a pleasant texture. People also seek a clean, fresh feeling after brushing, and many want their teeth to look as white and dazzling as possible.
Dentists, on the other hand, say the best toothpaste is the one that protects teeth from cavities, softened enamel and plaque. If not removed at least every 24 hours, plaque hardens into tartar -- also known as calculus -- which builds up and makes teeth and gums susceptible to decay. This leads to gingivitis, which can develop into serious periodontal disease.
There is no agency that regulates toothpaste, but some toothpastes earn the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance. This means that the product inside has been scientifically evaluated to be safe and effective. The ADA does not give its seal to fluoride-free products, but just because a product does not have the ADA seal, that does not mean it's not a safe, effective toothpaste.
Whitening toothpastes aim to brighten teeth, but the majority simply remove surface stains rather than changing the underlying color. Still, these products are good for people with coffee-, wine- or cigarette-stained teeth -- or for those who want to maintain the whiteness of their teeth after using teeth whitening products, like whitening strips, or receiving professional treatment. These toothpastes are usually "all-in-one" and are designed to fight plaque while whitening, but you can also buy a separate whitening booster to use in conjunction with your regular toothpaste.
Sensitive toothpastes are designed to alleviate tooth and gum sensitivity by building up the user's resistance using a chemical anti-sensitivity agent like potassium nitrate. For these products to be most effective, they do require daily use as the effects are cumulative.
Fluoride-free toothpastes are preferred by some people who prefer to avoid fluoride-containing products. Although there are a number of fluoride-free options that fight plaque and freshen breath, no fluoride-free toothpastes are approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).
Toothpastes are popular in "best-of" roundup slideshows, but the usefulness of these sources vary, since there often is no indication that any formal testing took place. What's more helpful are the thousands of user reviews on websites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Drugstore.com. These testimonials outline users' experiences with products and give a good sense of a toothpaste's efficacy. While we gave some weight to those roundups that consulted with dental professionals, we largely relied on the people who actually use the toothpastes to reach a consensus.
The best toothpastes fight plaque and protect enamel
For a dependable toothpaste that provides lasting fresh breath protection, take a look at Colgate Total (Est. $3.50). It comes in several different formulations: Daily Repair, Advanced Whitening, Advanced Deep Clean, Advanced Fresh + Whitening, Clean Mint, Fresh Mint Stripe Gel and Whitening.
Colgate Total is accepted by the American Dental Association (ADA) and contains both fluoride and triclosan -- a broad-spectrum antibiotic -- to kill bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. A copolymer allows the triclosan to remain active between brushings, even after you eat or drink.
Although there has been recent controversy surrounding triclosan -- some scientific findings claim it can act as an endocrine disruptor in animals, and possibly in fetuses -- both Colgate and the FDA maintain that the antibacterial agent is safe for human use and extremely effective in preventing gingivitis. Colgate Total is not recommended for kids under 6, as its antibacterial properties have not been tested for young children. It's moderately abrasive and contains sodium lauryl sulfate, which can sometimes irritate sensitive mouths.
RealSimple.com names Colgate Total its Best Overall Toothpaste in a roundup of several oral care products, citing its germ-fighting capabilities. Specifically, the review mentions Colgate Total Enamel Strength, which is now called Colgate Total Daily Repair. This formulation aims to strengthen teeth by remineralizing weakened enamel.
Hundreds of user reviewers are very enthusiastic about Colgate Total's pleasant taste and good cleaning power. Some say the Whitening formula doesn't do all that much in terms of whitening teeth, but generally, the majority of Colgate Total users seem to love it as their go-to daily toothpaste.
Crest Pro-Health Advanced (Est. $8 for 2) is another popular choice for everyday oral care. This formula doesn't use triclosan -- its "advanced" active ingredient is stannous fluoride, which offers protection against plaque and gingivitis. According to Crest, this formulation is clinically proven to reverse gingivitis in 4 weeks. It comes in two flavors: Smooth Mint and Energizing Mint. All carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Crest Pro-Health Advanced is extremely popular among users -- it has garnered thousands of reviews on Amazon.com and Walmart.com, and it maintains impressively high scores on each site. Users say it is effective at removing surface stains on teeth. A couple of reviewers mention that the toothpaste caused the inside of their cheeks to peel, and the manufacturer addressed the complaint directly, saying it was normal for dead skin cells to sometimes shed painlessly when some people use certain oral care products.
If you'd like to opt for a more "natural" version of fluoride toothpaste, we suggest that you consider Crest Pro-Health Advanced (Est. $8 for 2). Like most conventional toothpastes, this product contains fluoride as its active ingredient, but it contains no artificial dyes, sweeteners or flavors. It is also gluten-free, cruelty-free, and halal and kosher-certified. The manufacturer claims that the licorice root extract ingredient helps block bad breath germs from producing odor. Wicked Fresh comes in two flavors: Spearmint Ice and Cool Peppermint. It has not been accepted by the ADA.
Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh receives a health score of 6.7 out of 10 from GoodGuide.com because its ingredients raise a low level of health concern and Tom's earns a high score for its environmental policies and procedures. Users also love Tom's of Maine Wicked Fresh and it gets some of the highest ratings we've seen for any toothpaste. Reviewers say it offers long-lasting freshness and a light, minty taste and they like that it's made from all-natural ingredients.
Whitening toothpastes are a hassle-free way of brightening your smile
Colgate Optic White Toothpaste (Est. $3.50) is the clear winner among whitening toothpastes -- it has also earned a nod in our separate teeth whitening report. It comes in three formulations: Sparkling White, Icy Fresh and Enamel White. Its fluoride-and-hydrogen-peroxide formula is proven to deliver whiter teeth in one week, with more noticeable results after four weeks, and it also dependably prevents cavities while freshening breath.
Experts say Colgate Optic White is an excellent choice for no-hassle whitening. In a roundup of teeth whitening products recommended by a dental expert, Men's Health plugs Colgate Optic White in the "For the Lazy Man" category, saying the product offers great results with no time commitment outside of normal brushing.
Users give Colgate Optic White very favorable reviews as well, saying it does work as a whitening agent. A number of reviewers say they sought it out as a solution to teeth stains caused by drinking coffee -- these users were pleased with the results. Most say they like the taste, but a few dissenters feel it is overpowering or that the texture is unpleasantly thick.
Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening (Est. $13 for 6) is another whitening toothpaste worth considering. Although it doesn't pack as powerful a punch as Colgate Optic White, it's still a good choice for a daily toothpaste with some whitening abilities. It comes in a "Clean Mint" flavor.
Prevention.com lists Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening as a dentist-recommended brand for whitening toothpastes. According to Augusto Robles, DDS, director of operative dentistry at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, the product contains modified silicone abrasives that whiten teeth.
Users advise that you probably shouldn't expect dramatic results, but that Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening is good for maintaining white teeth by thoroughly removing surface stains. A number of users commend the product's unique minty flavor -- they say it almost tastes a little spicy.
Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White (Est. $7) is another choice in whitening toothpastes that earns very good feedback. It claims to remove 90 percent of surface stains in just seven days when used as directed. Like the Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening, Crest 3D White doesn't actually whiten teeth -- instead, it removes surface stains with a polishing silica ingredient. Like all the other products we've discussed, Crest 3D White contains fluoride, so regardless of its whitening abilities, it'll give you an anti-cavity benefit with daily use.
Crest 3D White has earned thousands of customer reviews on Amazon.com, the vast majority of which are positive. Users say the product is an especially good choice for maintaining teeth that have already been professionally whitened. The minty taste is also a big hit, and users say it offers long-lasting fresh breath.
One alternative to traditional whitening toothpaste is the Arm & Hammer Teeth Whitening Booster (Est. $11 for 2), which is meant to be used in conjunction with regular fluoride toothpaste. Its patented liquid calcium and peroxide formula lightens teeth and helps to fill in tiny cracks, giving you a brighter smile. Simply layer it on top of your regular toothpaste on your toothbrush.
The product earns a respectable score of 6.3 from GoodGuide.com, and RealSimple.com names it the "Best Innovation" among their favorite toothpastes. The Arm & Hammer Teeth Whitening Booster is well liked among user reviewers, who say that it makes a noticeable difference after just a few uses. Most users say that the formula is gentle on gums and doesn't cause much sensitivity.
None of the whitening toothpastes in this section have been accepted by the ADA, which does not offer a seal of approval for products that target teeth whitening.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Sensitive Toothpaste | Best Fluoride-free Toothpaste | Buying Guide | Our Sources