Good oral hygiene isn’t just about the type of floss you use or whether you prefer electric or manual toothbrushes. In fact, the right toothpaste can make or break your dental health. With seemingly endless choices available, purchasing the right one can be a challenge. Additionally, there are so many different variations to choose from depending on your needs, including toothpastes that whiten teeth, prevent tartar buildup, optimize gum health and more.
We talked to dentists about what to avoid, and how to shop for toothpaste — including what key ingredients to look for and stay away from. We also rounded up a handful of toothpastes that will deep clean your teeth, prevent cavities and freshen breath after you use them.
How we chose the best toothpastes
American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance: When you see the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance, it means the brand submitted data and other materials to the ADA and the organization determined that the product meets specified safety and efficacy requirements, explained Dr. Edmond Hewlett, professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry.
Fluoride: All toothpastes with the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance contain fluoride, an ingredient experts told us is proven to be effective in fighting cavities.
Flavor: As long as the toothpaste you choose has the ADA Seal, flavor is entirely a personal preference.
Specialized options: In addition to protecting teeth from cavities, some toothpaste offers additional benefits like whitening, or is made for those experiencing tooth sensitivity, for example.
Best toothpastes for adults in October 2023
Below, we highlighted basic toothpaste varieties as well as a few options designed for sensitive teeth, which experts said anyone can use, regardless of whether or not you are experiencing tooth sensitivity. If you’re looking for the best whitening toothpaste or the best kids toothpaste, we rounded up ADA-accepted options separately. For each product, we included its flavor and the size of each tube.
Best anti-cavity toothpaste
Flavor: Mint | Size: 3.4 ounces
Flavor: Fresh Mint | Size: 6.3 ounces
Flavor: Ultra Mint | Size: 5.5 ounces
Flavor: Mint | Size: 6 ounces (two tubes)
Flavor: Cool Mint | Size: 4.2 ounces
Flavor: Mint | Size: 5 ounces
Flavor: Mint or Watermelon | Size: 4.7 ounces
Flavor: Mint | Size: 4 ounces (three tubes)
Best sensitive toothpaste
Flavor: Fresh mint and fresh impact | Size: 4 ounces (two tubes) | Select 2023 Wellness Awards Winner
Flavor: Mint | Size: 3.7 ounces (three tubes)
Flavor: Gentle mint | Size: 7 ounces
Flavor : Fresh mint | Size: 5 ounces
How to shop for toothpaste
When buying a new tube, there are three main questions you should consider, said Dr. Breno Reboucas, a professor at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine:
Does it have the ADA seal of acceptance?
Does it contain fluoride?
Does it address any additional needs your specific teeth may require?
All toothpastes that earn the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain fluoride, and while Hewlett said there’s been controversy over fluoride for decades, “it’s one of the most well-documented therapies in all of dentistry,” he explained. Additionally, toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance do not contain flavoring agents like sugar that cause or contribute to tooth decay.
Aside from picking a toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, choosing one is mostly a matter of personal preference, said Reboucas. As long as you do not select a fluoride-free option, anything you enjoy using is the right choice for you.
Brushing your teeth with toothpaste is only one element of an oral care routine, according to Hewlett. In order to effectively remove plaque and prevent tooth decay, gingivitis, gum disease and bad breath, you should also visit your dentist regularly, as well as use mouthwash and floss daily (or use a water flosser).
Toothpaste for specialized needs
Some adults’ teeth have additional needs that specialized toothpaste options can address. Reboucas said specialized toothpastes contain specific active ingredients to help with issues like sensitivity and tartar build-up. Some whitening options are made with hydrogen peroxide, the same ingredient that is often found in other teeth whitening products, in order to remove surface stains from teeth. Anti-erosion toothpastes usually contain ingredients to restore the minerals in tooth enamel — like sodium fluoride and stannous fluoride — and harden them over time.
Experts told us it’s important to speak with your dentist about your unique oral hygiene needs to decide if you should purchase specialized toothpaste. “Your dentist knows your oral health status better than anybody and is an advocate for your oral health, so consult with them and see what toothpaste they recommend for you,” Hewlett said.
What about charcoal toothpaste, “natural” toothpaste and solid toothpaste?
Dentists often field questions from patients about “trends” in the toothpaste space and whether these products are effective. We asked experts to share a few of the most common toothpaste trends they’re asked about and what we should know about them.
Charcoal is often thought of as an ingredient that can absorb toxins and bacteria on your teeth or in your mouth — similar to how it purifies water. However, experts agree that you should not use it. There are no charcoal toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, and a study published in The Journal of The American Dental Association found that there wasn’t enough evidence to support efficacy claims. Experts also said that using charcoal toothpaste may damage the outer layer of enamel since charcoal is abrasive.
“Currently, the FDA does not define the term ‘natural toothpaste,’ which leaves consumers to define what natural means to them," said Dr. Kate Zoumboukos of SW Austin Dental. She said it’s common for the term “natural toothpaste” to describe options that are free of artificial flavors and ingredients, preservatives, sweeteners and dyes. Experts agree that any toothpaste marketed as "natural" is effective so long as it has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Toothpaste most often comes in a gel or paste form, but some brands sell solid toothpaste, usually in the form of a tablet you chew into a gum-like substance before brushing your teeth with it. There are no solid toothpaste options that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance, and thus they do not meet our experts’ guidance.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett, DDS, is a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, where he also serves as the associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Breno Reboucas is a professor at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine, teaching about both pediatric dentistry and general dentistry. He also practices at the Boston University Dental Health Center.
Dr. Kate Zoumboukos practices dentistry at SW Austin Dental in Texas. She also participates in humanitarian dental mission trips and routinely speaks to local schools about the dental profession.
Why trust Select?
Zoe Malin has been covering dental care for over a year at Select and has written guides about teeth whitening products, floss, toothbrushes and more. For this piece, Zoe interviewed three dentists and researched dozens of toothpastes on the market. We recommended toothpastes that meet expert shopping guidance, contain fluoride and have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.