With hundreds of different toothpaste options to choose from, no one could blame you for feeling confused about which one is best for you and your family. Here’s what you need to know about the most popular types of toothpaste to find out which offer the most benefits for your dental health.

Fluoride Toothpastes

Dentists recommend using toothpaste with fluoride to prevent tooth decay. This abrasive mineral helps to strengthen tooth enamel, reversing tooth decay and making teeth more resistant to cavities.

"Abrasives are the most important part of toothpaste - without them, it's like running grape jelly over your teeth,” said Bill Crutchfield, M.D., of Orthodontics By Crutchfield in an email interview. “You need that soft abrasion to remove remaining food and reduce staining of the teeth.”

All toothpaste that is marked with the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance contains fluoride. According to the ADA, both adults and children should use toothpaste that contains fluoride, although children between three and six should use only a pea-sized amount, while children under three need only a smear of toothpaste to protect their teeth. Swallowing large amounts of fluoride can cause fluorosis or mottling of the tooth enamel, damaging the teeth, so always try to get your kids to spit the toothpaste out after brushing.

Natural Toothpastes

Natural toothpaste manufacturers try to find organic alternatives to some of the chemicals found in standard toothpaste. Some natural toothpastes contain fluoride from natural sources, although others leave this important chemical out. Natural toothpaste often uses natural sweeteners such as xylitol, which is found in fruits and vegetables (smoothie bowl anyone?), as an alternative to saccharin or sorbitol. Xylitol doesn’t cause tooth decay like sugar does, although some people get stomachaches if they swallow large amounts of it.

Natural toothpaste typically doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate, the ingredient that makes toothpaste froth into a lather. Toothpaste doesn’t need to be frothy to clean teeth properly, and some people find that sodium lauryl sulfate gives them canker sores. A desire to avoid this ingredient is many people’s reason for choosing a natural toothpaste. On the other hand, you might find this type of toothpaste strange to brush with because it doesn’t lather.

Trending Toothpaste Types

In recent years, a number of alternative toothpaste options have come onto the market. Take a look at a few of these trends to see whether any of them can help you care for your dental health.

Charcoal Toothpaste

Surprisingly, brushing your teeth with a black charcoal paste can make them whiter. The charcoal particles in this kind of toothpaste absorb stains and brighten your smile. However, the ADA claims that charcoal is too abrasive to be a safe whitening ingredient. Over time, using charcoal paste to clean your teeth could wear away the enamel, exposing the yellow inside of the tooth.

Tooth Powder

Some people have given up toothpaste altogether in favor of dental powder. This old-fashioned tooth-cleaning option contains a gentle abrasive such as baking soda, a natural sweetener such as xylitol, bentonite clay, herbs, and essential oils. Although tooth powders are not as convenient to use as toothpaste, some people prefer them because they contain all natural ingredients. However, tooth powders don’t typically offer the enamel-strengthening benefits of a fluoride toothpaste.

Conclusion

For most children and adults, a fluoride toothpaste featuring the ADA Seal of Acceptance is likely to be suitable. However, if you have a sensitivity to a particular ingredient in toothpaste or you have specialized dental health needs, such as stained teeth or weak enamel, you may have to search a little harder to find the paste that works for you. The best way to find the right toothpaste is to ask your dentist or oral hygienist for advice. These tooth experts can let you know which toothpastes are best for your oral health needs.

"Depending on your health history, you should be pretty safe with commercially available toothpastes,” said Crutchfield. “The key thing we always want to reinforce is brushing with ANY commercially available toothbrush is going to be better than not brushing at all."