Colgate Total
Colgate Total

Best toothpaste overall

Experts recommend Colgate Total more often than any other toothpaste. According to both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Dental Association (ADA), this was the first toothpaste on the market to include the antibacterial ingredient triclosan, which has been proven effective for fighting gum disease (gingivitis). Total contains a copolymer that allows triclosan to remain active between brushings, even after you eat or drink. Colgate Total is not recommended for kids under six years old, since its antibacterial properties have not been tested for young children.
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*Est. $3.50 for 7.8 oz. Estimated Price
Ultra brite Advanced Whitening
Ultra brite Advanced Whitening

Best stain removal

In a major comparison review, this budget toothpaste beat out 40 other brands for stain removal, but Ultra brite doesn't carry the ADA seal. It does contain fluoride plus a tartar-control ingredient, but not triclosan or the copolymer that makes cavity protection last between meals. Ultra brite is also more abrasive than Colgate (thought it is manufactured by Colgate), and some dentists warn that with aggressive brushing, highly abrasive toothpastes can wear down tooth enamel. This toothpaste is approved for kids older than two years of age.
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Toms of Maine Natural Anticavity Baking Soda Fluoride Toothpaste, Peppermint
Toms of Maine Natural Anticavity Baking Soda Fluoride Toothpaste, Peppermint

Natural toothpaste

This ADA-approved toothpaste contains no saccharin, sweetened instead with xylitol, a natural sugar proven to combat harmful bacteria instead of feeding them. This toothpaste uses calcium carbonate as the abrasive, so it is also much less abrasive than Colgate Total or Ultra brite, but doesn't remove stains as well.
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Sensodyne Pronamel
Sensodyne Pronamel

Toothpaste for sensitive teeth and mouths

Unlike the toothpastes above, Sensodyne Pronamel contains no sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) that dentists say can irritate gums and the lining of the mouth. Reviews say SLS-free toothpastes are also better for people prone to canker sores. In addition to fluoride, this toothpaste contains potassium nitrate, an ingredient dentists recommend for people with teeth extra sensitive to heat and cold. It also minimizes erosion of tooth enamel caused by acid foods, which can lead to sensitivity.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Toothpaste Runners Up:

Crest Cavity Protection *Est. $4/8.2 oz.

2 picks by top review sites.

Squigle Enamel Saver *Est. $8/4 oz.

2 picks by top review sites.

Introduction to Toothpaste


We found the most authoritative toothpaste recommendations at Consumer Reports, where editors test 41 toothpastes for stain removal, abrasiveness and fluoride content. Choice.com.au, the Australian equivalent to Consumer Reports, compares toothpastes only for their whitening ability. Much more informal comparison reviews at Grist and Slate magazines evaluate toothpastes mostly for taste, texture and the way the mouth feels after brushing - as do most consumer-written reviews published at sites such as Drugstore.com and Amazon.com. We also found good information from dentists who post articles and recommendations to blogs and oral-health websites.

Reading toothpaste reviews quickly reveals that consumers and dentists seem to have different priorities when choosing toothpaste. Most people look for good flavor, thickness (neither too runny nor too hard) and pleasant texture. People also want the mouth to feel clean after brushing, with sweet breath, and for teeth to look not only unstained, but as white 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, which builds up and makes teeth and gums even more susceptible to decay - resulting in a negative cycle that can cause first gingivitis, then serious periodontal disease. In turn, quite a few experts believe that periodontal disease may cause systemic problems, including heart problems.

Where dentists and consumers do agree is that the best toothpaste should do no harm. We found quite a few complaints from sufferers with sensitive teeth, canker sores or problems with the soft tissues of the mouth. Just because a toothpaste prevents cavities does not mean it won't irritate your teeth, gums or the lining of your mouth. Crest Pro-Health toothpaste (*Est. $5/7.8 oz.), designed to control tartar, gets an especially high number of complaints from users. Some complain that the stannous fluoride stains their teeth, while others are sensitive to its tartar-control ingredient, sodium hexametaphosphate.

Quite a few dentists recommend avoiding tartar-control toothpastes since they can contribute to oral problems. In most mouths, tartar only builds up if plaque is left on the teeth for 24 hours or longer, so as long as you brush often enough with a fluoride toothpaste to control plaque, tartar should not accumulate.

Dentists and comparison reviews are skeptical of toothpastes that claim to whiten teeth. Furthermore, oral-health experts say that "whitening" toothpastes don't do anything extra for dental health, and most don't remove stains any better than regular fluoride toothpastes. Experts insist that no toothpaste can change the color of your teeth -- they can only work to remove stains so that your natural tooth color shows through. Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the American Dental Association (ADA) defines what "whitening" means, so any manufacturer can use the term on product labels. The only way to substantially whiten teeth is to see your dentist and receive a professional whitening treatment or try an over-the-counter whitening kit. (We have a separate report on teeth whitening.)

Xylitol is the latest toothpaste ingredient that's attracting scrutiny. Clinical studies confirm that this natural sugar aids in preventing cavities and gingivitis, rather than feeding harmful bacteria the way most sugars do. Studies show that xylitol plus fluoride is an especially beneficial combination.

However, most experts say that any toothpaste that contains fluoride is effective when used often and well enough. Although water fluoridation is still somewhat controversial, fluoride in toothpaste is considered not only safe, but essential. We discovered several sources that tell consumers that any toothpaste will do as long as it contains fluoride, especially if it has the ADA seal of approval.

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Crest Pro-Health Clean Mint Toothpaste 7.8 Oz (Pack of 4)
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