There are plenty of toothpastes on store shelves, each boasting ­dental-care benefits and listing unpronounceable ingredients. But which claims should you believe? Facts worth knowing about toothpaste…

Fluoride is the most important toothpaste ingredient. Instead of the word “fluoride,” you may see the terms “sodium monofluorophosphate”…”sodium fluoride”…or “stannous fluoride” on fluoridated-toothpaste labels—these are the three forms of fluoride that the US Food and Drug Administration recognizes as clinically effective for cavity prevention. Note: Some people seek out fluoride-free toothpastes because they are concerned that fluoride causes cancer, but dozens of studies indicate those ­concerns are misplaced.

The “ADA Accepted” seal ensures claims on packaging are legit. The American Dental Association (ADA) won’t issue this seal to a product unless the manufacturer can provide lab tests and/or clinical trials to back its claims. This seal also ensures that the toothpaste doesn’t contain flavorings that could contribute to tooth decay. Helpful: Check products in the ADA Seal Chairside Guide ( for ADA-accepted products.

“Natural” toothpastes aren’t necessarily safe. Example: The natural toothpaste Redmond Earthpaste includes calcium ­bentonite clay, which can contain heavy metals such as lead. And many natural toothpastes don’t contain the most important ingredient—fluoride.

Best natural product: The natural toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Whole Care contains fluoride—as the company notes, fluoride is natural and found in ocean water, soil, rocks and living creatures including humans. (Some other Tom’s of Maine toothpastes don’t contain fluoride.) There is no official definition of the word “natural” on toothpaste labels.

“Sensitive teeth” toothpastes should contain stannous fluoride or potassium nitrate. These ingredients can reduce sensitivity to touch and the movement of breath over the teeth, but stannous fluoride has the added benefit of fighting gingivitis.

Warning: For some people, stannous fluoride may cause difficult-to-reverse tooth staining. Stannous fluoride toothpaste stabilized with zinc phosphate, which should appear in the list of ­inactive ingredients on the toothpaste label, may be less likely to cause staining.

Products to try for sensitive teeth: Colgate Total SF and Crest Pro-Health, which contain stannous fluoride…or Sensodyne Deep Clean Sensitive Toothpaste, Colgate Sensitive Prevent and Repair or Hello Sensitivity Relief, which contain potassium nitrate. ­Colgate Total also contains zinc phosphate.

Whitening toothpastes can cause discomfort. They can contain irritating abrasive agents and/or chemical whiteners.

For surface stains: We recommend Tom’s of Maine Simply White Clean Mint Toothpaste, which contains mildly abrasive hydrated silica but does not contain the potentially irritating tartar-control agent pyrophosphate.

For nonsurface stains: Whitening toothpastes have only modest benefit, so on deeper stains, we recommend using whitening strips, which have better effects. We recommend Crest 3D Whitestrips, the only product that has been accepted by the ADA.

Discontinue use if either of these cause significant discomfort.

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