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Choosing the best toothpaste

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Choosing the best toothpaste

Find out the truth behind the claims made by popular toothpaste brands

 

You'd think that toothpaste would be easy to buy - after all it has one main job to do. But with over a hundred different varieties available, including many 'multi-component' toothpastes (also called 'total' or 'complete') you'd be forgiven for being confused.

So is it worth buying a toothpaste for sensitive teeth or a whitening toothpaste? And is an expensive toothpaste more effective than a cheaper one?

To find out, we teamed up with three toothpaste and dental experts to assess the claims and evidence behind everyday and premium popular toothpastes from brands such as Boots, Oral B and Colgate. 

They examined research provided by the manufacturers, and wider clinical research, to help you decide whether to pay a premium for types of toothpaste, such as those for sensitive teeth, or employ a healthy dose of scepticism.

Log in to unlock our findings in the table below. We also have expert advice on NHS and private dental charges. If you're not yet a member then you can get instant access by taking a £1 trial to Which?.

 

Cavity protection
Toothpastes compared Aquafresh Triple Protection

Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection plus Sugar Acid Neutraliser

Colgate maximum cavity protection
Prices £1 for 100ml (pack price £1) £5.05 for 100ml (pack price £3.79)
Claims 'Sugar acid protection provided by fluoride that helps protect against sugar acids in plaque, the key cause of cavities...' '...helps de-activate sugar acids in plaque before they can harm teeth...'
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Enamel erosion protection
Toothpastes compared Sensodyne Pronamel Daily Protection

Arm & Hammer Enamel Pro Repair Whiteningwith Baking Soda and Liquid Calcium

Arm & Hammer Enamel pro repair
Prices £4.50 per 100ml (pack price £4.50) £5 per 100ml (pack price £3.75)
Claims 'Strengthens and re-hardens enamel. Protects teeth from the effects of acid wear.' 'Restores natural whiteness and helps prevent erosion... the only toothpaste that also restores your surface enamel...'
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Gum health
Toothpastes compared Superdrug Procare Gum Health

Colgate Total Pro Gum Health

Colgate Total
Prices £1.33 per 100ml (pack price £1.99) £5.05 per 100ml (pack price £3.79)
Claims '... dual-antibacterial technology to help: reduce gum problems, protect against tooth decay, remove plaque which can lead to tartar formation...' '... proven to reduce the progression of... gum disease, and provide long-lasting protection against: gum bleeding, gum inflammation, cavities, plaque and tartar.'
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Sensitive
Toothpastes compared Boots Smile Sensitive Freshmint

Sensodyne Daily Care

Sensodyne daily care
Prices £1.35 per 100ml (pack price £1.35) £4 per 100ml (pack price £4)
Claims '... formulated for people with sensitive teeth. It cleans gently and effectively and contains clinically proven ingredients to help protect teeth and gums.' '... formulated for people with sensitive teeth. It provides all the benefits of a regular toothpaste and does not contain the detergent SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate).'
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Total or complete
Toothpastes compared Aquafresh Complete Care

Oral-B Pro-Expert All-Around Protection

Oral-B pro expert
Prices £2.80 per 100ml (pack price £2.80) £4.80 per 100ml (pack price £3.60)
Claims '8 key benefits in one family toothpaste... all-round protection for your whole family.' 'Clinically proven for all-around protection.'
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Whitening
Toothpastes compared Macleans White & Shine

Macleans white & shine
Colgate Max White One

Prices £2 per 100ml (pack price £2) £5.33 per 100ml (pack price £4)
Claims '... The formula is proven to give you visibly shinier and smoother teeth from just one week.' '... It safely removes stains and prevents tartar build-up to help you get one shade whiter teeth in one week.'
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The key things to look for when buying toothpaste

  • Check the fluoride concentration. Look for the parts per million of fluoride (ppmF-). Less than 1000ppmF- is a low concentration and offers limited or no protection against decay. 1450ppmF- is generally used in over-the-counter UK toothpastes and is recommended by our experts. However, children’s formulas can contain lower levels. 
  • Many people - especially those who brush well – don’t need extra active ingredients apart from fluoride. However, toothpastes such as Sensodyne Original, Oral B Rembrandt Plus Fresh Mint and Euthymol contain no fluoride.
  • Use our ingredients guide (below) to understand the claims made about a particular toothpaste, and whether the evidence supports them – or whether a basic fluoride toothpaste is enough. 
  • Check the pack size. A toothpaste that looks cheap can be pricey when you calculate the price per 100ml.

What's in toothpaste?

Active ingredients

Sodium fluoride

Evidence shows that toothpastes with higher concentrations of fluoride are more effective at controlling decay, and help reduce the effect of acid erosion. Other fluorides found in toothpaste are stannous fluoride and sodium monofluorophosphate. 

Potassium nitrate 

One of a number of desensitising agents with evidence of effectiveness, including stannous fluoride, arginine and calcium sodium phosphosilicate (NovaMin). 

Triclosan 

This anti-bacterial agent reduces plaque, inflamed and bleeding gums, and decay. Other anti-plaque agents include bromochlorophene zinc citrate, papain and sanguinaria extract. 

Arginine and calcium carbonate 

These neutralise plaque acids, and help repair tooth enamel. 

Additives

Hydrated silica, mica, sodium bicarbonate 

Abrasives that remove surface stains such as tea, coffee and red wine. 

PVM/MA Copolymer 

A binder used with triclosan, so it stays on your teeth and gums. 

Sorbitol, glycerol, propylene glycol

Humectants that keep your toothpaste moist. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) 

A foaming detergent that dissolves dirt and grease. Other detergents include cocamidopropyl betaine and pentasodium triphosphate. 

Methylparaben and sodium benzoate 

Preservatives that stop toothpaste bacteria growth. 

Cellulose gum, carrageenan and xanthan gum 

These thickeners provide texture and stop toothpaste drying out. 

Sodium hydroxide 

Also known as lye and found it much larger quantities in drain and oven cleaner. It neutralises the pH of other ingredients. 

Titanium dioxide (CI 77891) 

This colour pigment makes toothpaste whiter and brighter.

Limonene, cinnamal, peppermint oil, glycerine, sucralose, sorbitol, lota carrageenan, sodium saccharin, aroma, mint flavour 

Artificial or added sweeteners and flavour providers. The first three essential oils are known allergens.

Find out the truth behind the claims made by popular toothpaste brands.

Should you be worried about fluoride, triclosan and sodium lauryl sulphate?

Reviews of the risks have found no evidence that fluoride in toothpastes is linked to health conditions in adults. 

The evidence for fluoride toothpastes is overwhelming, and they can help reduce tooth decay, the main reason for tooth loss (together with gum disease). 

Triclosan concerns some scientists, as it potentially affects your endocrine system, which controls hormone release into your bloodstream. If disrupted, this could be linked to health conditions. 

Research is ongoing, but some companies have removed triclosan from toothpastes. 

Some manufacturers have also removed sodium lauryl sulphate, as there is limited evidence it causes skin irritation. For example, some people find that it is linked with mouth ulcers, and other people with the condition ‘dry mouth’ find it irritates the mouth, making the condition worse.

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