Confused about which toothpaste to use for the best oral hygiene? Since we all know that brushing twice daily is an essential form of dental care, let’s clear up the confusion. When it comes to family dental health, we know you want to make the best choice for your family. But choose the wrong toothpaste, and your efforts may not be as healthy as you think. With all the other things you have to decide on a regular basis, let us take the guesswork out of which type to use.

So many options, so little time

Fluoride, natural, charcoal and whitening formulas are the most popular options. They usually come as pastes or gels but may also be in powder form.

Most contain sulfate-based cleansing agents, which make your toothpaste foam. Unfortunately, these detergents can be drying to the mouth. Formulators counteract this with humectants like glycerol to maintain healthy moisture levels and prevent toothpaste hardening. Some have silicates or calcium carbonate (baking soda) to help clear away bacteria, food debris and stains from your teeth. Gums, seaweeds or other thickening agents are added to give toothpaste the consistency you have grown to expect.

Each type has unique benefits, and marketing, which confuses matters more! Here are the ins and outs of the different kinds of toothpaste:

Fluoride: A toothpaste staple since 1950, this natural mineral has been proven to inhibit tooth decay and help prevent cavities and fillings! When we eat, bacteria feed on sugars and starches left behind, producing acid. Fluoride has the ability to re-mineralize and strengthen tooth enamel, providing a protective effect. Bottom line: Fluoride toothpaste can help correct acid damage and give your teeth added defense against damage in the future. Note: Studies show it is safe so long as it is not ingested in excess. Having changed the landscape of dental services, it is no coincidence that all toothpastes approved by the ADA (American Dental Association) contain this revolutionary mineral.

Tartar Control: If you are especially prone to building up plaque, this may be your best choice. Left unattended, plaque can harden on your teeth and beneath your gumline, becoming tartar, a precursor to gum disease. Ask your family dentist if tartar toothpaste with zinc citrate, pyrophosphates, anti-bacterial ingredients, or a combination of all three is right for you. Remember: Preventive dentistry offers the best assurance of comfortable and affordable dental care!

Sensitive Teeth: If your teeth feel on edge when you consume hot and cold foods or beverages, you could benefit from a formula that caters to sensitive teeth. Ingredients like strontium chloride or potassium nitrate help fill and block the pathways that connect to nerves within your teeth. Some people experience relief quickly, while others may need to use this type of toothpaste for four weeks to see results.

Teeth Whitening: Most whitening toothpastes use ingredients that polish away stains or chemicals and enzymes that help extract and brighten surface discoloration. However, most do not contain specially-formulated peroxide found in professional teeth whitening, which is most effective for correcting stubborn darkening. In addition, some studies indicate that overuse of abrasive whitening formulas and aggressive brushing habits can thin your enamel. This can increase the visibility of your dentine beneath and leave your teeth vulnerable to damage and sensitivity.

Natural: Some natural or herbal formulas refrain from fluoride or sulfates and are ideal for patients who are sensitive to commercial toothpastes, or experience canker sores or perioral dermatitis. Fortunately, the ADA backs several natural formulas. Many contain erythritol, xylitol, hydroxyapatite and green tea that work to control bacteria. Safe for humans but be sure to keep formulas with xylitol away from Fido. Charcoal may be a trendy natural personal care ingredient, but it can abrade and thin your enamel, making it one fad to avoid in toothpaste. And don’t get us started on DIY versions.

Pick your flavor

The most popular toothpastes are mint and cinnamon flavored. They give your mouth a fresh aroma and help control bad breath. These and other artificial flavors and sweeteners, like saccharin, sweeten up your toothpaste and make brushing more enjoyable. In addition, many formulators offer fruit or candy-flavored versions to entice children to brush.

Whichever formula you pick, verify that it is ADA approved before you purchase. With this stamp of approval, you can trust that it is effective and safe. Still torn? You can alternate formulas to get the best of both worlds, using one in the morning and one in the evening. Just be careful to avoid formulas manufactured in countries that don’t uphold FDA standards!