From ancient Egypt to early Greece, humans have long used pastes and scrubs to clean teeth, freshen breath and support a healthy mouth. While we’ve evolved beyond the toothpaste ingredients of crushed bones or burnt eggshells that our ancestors used (phew), we still rely on toothpaste for the same reasons. With all the options out there and all that they promise, it’s natural to wonder: Are all toothpastes the same? Does it really matter which one I use?
It depends. There are a handful of types of toothpaste: anti-cavity, whitening and toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Here’s a quick rundown of what that means:
- Anti-cavity toothpaste aims to treat and prevent tooth decay by strengthening and remineralizing enamel. For this reason, most toothpastes contain fluoride, including all ADA-approved toothpastes. Dentists typically recommend toothpaste with fluoride to prevent cavities.
- Whitening toothpaste contains stronger abrasives like silica to polish and lift surface-level stains, as well as chemicals like hydrogen peroxide to break down deeper stains. Some people experience sensitivity when using whitening toothpastes, though they are milder than most topical whitening treatments. If you’re a regular coffee or wine drinker, you might consider a whitening toothpaste to combat stains.
- Sensitivity toothpaste eases discomfort for those whose teeth are sensitive to heat or cold. Sensitivity toothpastes typically contain potassium nitrate, which blocks pain signals to the nerve of the tooth by stopping up the tiny tunnels in your teeth which lead to the nerve.
Any toothpaste you buy should contain mild abrasives, cleansing and freshening ingredients. There are some significant differences between fluoride, whitening, and sensitive toothpastes, but many have similar or overlapping effects, so it’s helpful to understand what’s on the back of the box before you buy. If you have questions about which toothpaste is right for you, be sure to consult your dentist.