Brushing Up On Toothpaste

Paste or gel? Regular or sensitive? Our guide clears up any confusion you'll encounter in the dental aisle.

By Sarah Safir from Reader's Digest | October 2003

A glance at a store’s toothpaste selection can make your head spin. Narrow the choices by checking for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. Then try this guide:


  • 1.

    Skip the mouthwash pastes.

    Pastes with mouthwash offer no advantage in beating bad breath, says Matt Messina of the ADA.

  • 2.

    Add baking soda.

    All pastes contain a polisher and an abrasive. Baking soda is both. Choose this only if you prefer the taste.

  • 3.

    Lighten up.

    Whitening pastes won’t get your teeth as white as if they’d been bleached, but they will brighten them more than a standard toothpaste, says Samuel Yankell, a dental scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • 4.

    Skip the children's toothpaste.

    Kids don’t need their own toothpaste. And most don’t develop tartar until puberty, so a fluoride paste is enough, says Messina.

  • 5.

    Sensitive teeth?

    Potassium nitrate on the label means this paste will help block your teeth’s pain receptors.