Almost all the toothpastes discussed elsewhere in this report include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as a surfactant. It's what gives the toothpastes their pleasant foaminess. Some people find that SLS irritates their mouths, however, contributing to the incidence of canker sores or other mouth discomfort. Another problem dentists frequently encounter is sensitive teeth -- teeth that hurt when touched by hot or cold food or drink.
A lot of things can cause canker sores and sensitive teeth, but most toothpastes designed for sensitive mouths and teeth don't include SLS, which can dry the gums and lining of the mouth. Some toothpastes for sensitive teeth made by Sensodyne and other brands also contain potassium nitrate, an ingredient that can alleviate tooth sensitivity. Dentists say that some patients only need to use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth for a month or two, for example if you're using a whitening product, like strips, that may contribute to sensitivity, while others need to stay with it indefinitely. We cover teeth whitening products in a separate report.
There's no doubt about it: the brand Sensodyne reigns supreme when it comes to products made for sensitive gums and teeth. Sensodyne ProNamel Gentle Whitening (Est. $9) is a popular choice. It is designed to restore teeth to their natural whiteness and protect enamel against acid erosion, which causes teeth to grow yellow, thin, transparent and dull. This makes it a good choice for heavy coffee drinkers and people at risk of acid erosion, as it reportedly strengthens acid-softened enamel and prevents further enamel from dissolving. In addition, its desensitizing formula actually has a cumulative effect -- it makes teeth less sensitive over time.
Sensodyne ProNamel Gentle Whitening is a top pick among experts, and user reviewers are very pleased with the product. They say it has a pleasant taste and that it does gradually whiten teeth. A number of users remark that regular brushing with this toothpaste essentially cured their hot/cold sensitivity. Some people who don't have sensitivity issues say they used this product to decrease their sensitivity before switching to a stronger whitening product, such as strips or gels. Many also say it provides long-lasting fresh breath.
Alternatively, if you don't want or need whitening but want a top-rated toothpaste for sensitive teeth, consider Sensodyne Repair and Protect Toothpaste (Est. $9). Its active ingredient is stannous fluoride, which prevents cavities from forming and creates a protective layer over teeth to prevent pain. When used for twice-daily brushing, Sensodyne Repair and Protect relieves and protects teeth against sensitivity from hot and cold as well as sweet beverages and foods. The product earns high praise from users, who praise the taste and gentle formula.
Squigle Tooth Builder Sensitive Toothpaste (Est. $10) is another option for sensitive teeth that contains mostly natural ingredients, plus xylitol to fight plaque and tartar. It doesn't contain fluoride or potassium nitrate (experts recommend toothpaste with no more than five percent potassium nitrate for people with sensitive teeth), and it's less abrasive than standard toothpaste. Among hundreds of reviews on Amazon.com, most feedback for Squigle Tooth Builder is positive. Several reviewers say this toothpaste reduced sensitivity following dental work, and a few report that it was effective even after other sensitive toothpaste -- such as Sensodyne -- failed to alleviate their sensitivity.
Other reviewers, however, noticed little difference in sensitivity, and some say the flavor (a non-minty, natural flavor) and texture take some getting used to. That said, the non-minty flavor of this toothpaste is a plus for some consumers who say that their children, who sometimes resist brushing due to the strong mint taste of traditional toothpaste, will use it without complaint. Because it doesn't contain fluoride, Squigle Tooth Builder Sensitive Toothpaste is not ADA-approved.