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How do you choose your toothpaste?

Choosing toothpaste should be one of life’s simpler decisions. But with more than a hundred varieties on sale promising everything from cavity prevention to teeth whitening, how do you decide which is best?

And is it better to splash out on a more expensive brand or will a cheaper one do the job just as well?

Our new research takes a look at the science behind the claims, and whether you can really trust them.

I’ve always been sceptical about those claims you see on toothpaste packaging. Enamel protection? Relief for sensitive teeth? Really? Instead I tend to look for discounts and offers when choosing which one to buy.

Usually I stick to chemist or supermarket own brands to get the best price, and if they proffer the words ‘teeth whitening’ or ‘total’ – well that’s a bonus.

I use an electric toothbrush at home and I like to think that thorough brushing, coupled with regular visits to the dentist, will give me all the protection I need.

Can you trust teeth whitening and other claims?

How important are those toothpaste claims to you? Well, 54% of you told us you opt for a sensitive toothpaste, with 46% looking for ‘complete’ or ‘total’ claims, and 36% buying teeth whitening toothpastes.

Of the claims we looked at, fluoride is one key ingredient that science seems to support. There’s significant evidence to prove that it protects from decay and prevents against acid erosion.

But it also matters how much of it there is in your toothpaste. You can look on the pack for one that contains more than 1,450 parts per million of fluoride (ppmf) to make sure you’re getting a good level of protection.

There is also some evidence to suggest that ingredients for reducing sensitivity can help. But experts told us that different things will work for different people, so you might have to try a few to find what works for you.

And teeth whitening claims? Our experts compared two toothpastes that claim to give whiter teeth in a week, but saw no evidence to support the claims. There’s limited evidence to buy a whitening toothpaste instead of a standard fluoride one, and they won’t be as effective as teeth whitening (bleaching) or a clean by your dentist.

So how do you decide which toothpaste to choose? Do you look for a certain claim or favour a brand? Or like me, do you simply go for the cheapest on offer?


The BDA site has some informative literature. One investigation showed that the incidence of dental caries is 23% less with 1000-1200 ppm fluoride, 29% with 1450-1500 and 36% for 2400-2800. A similar effect with gels and rinses.

A TV programme recently went to Scandinavia where there is some craze for sucking tablets containing xylitol derived from silver birch to prevent tooth decay. No evidence of any real benefit apparently.

Another TV investigation looked at “tooth whitening” kits on general sale for up to £50. None worked, despite the claims, partly because the active ingredient (hydrogen peroxide) is limited by EU law to levels that are ineffective. So a bit of a scam?

All in all, exotic toothpastes seem to play on our ignorance. We buy Colgate when it is in offer. I just got out a magnifying glass to read the ingredients and was heartened to see fluoride 1450 ppm. Plus a 6 monthly visit to the hygienist for a check, scale and polish.

It would be interesting if a dental expert could tell us whether there is really any difference between toothpastes, wouldn’t it?

For years I have avoided toothpaste containing triclosan. It’s good to learn from the Which? report that it has been removed from some toothpastes.

Veronica says:
3 August 2015

Me too. After last Which? report I changed to Tesco Freshmint with 1450ppm Fluoride and no triclosan. Only costs around 50p for100ml.

Veronica says:
21 August 2015

Tesco now have a 75ml tube with EXACTLY the same ingredients for 25p.

Thanks Amy, that is lucky! A quick squint at the review seems to suggest to me – just buy toothpaste with fluoride at 1450ppm. Otherwise you’re being parted from your hard-earned cash for little benefit – unless you have sensitive teeth. Would that be fair?

I usually just look for the lowest price on standard toothpaste. Toothpastes with loads of special claims or ingredients seem to cost several times the price of regular types; I suspect they are very poor value, and probably not particularly effective on their special claims, although no doubt satisfactory on their basic cleansing and hygiene properties. I’m not sure why, but I have never used a supermarket own label toothpaste, and I stopped using Boots own-label a few years ago when they started raising the dilution rate without lowering the price. Major brands on discount appear to give satisfactory performance at an economical price.

Even buying standard toothpaste, the range of pack sizes and price levels means you have to compare prices quite carefully [including special offers and multi-buys] in order to avoid being diddled. The retailers are not exactly whiter than white on this.

The thing that I find that you have to look out for when buying the toothpaste normally used in this household is that the discount stores sell a 125 ml tube for about 99p whereas the local chemist and at least one supermarket sell the 100 ml tube for the same price. Beware!

I buy toothpaste when there is a genuine special offer. Apart from avoiding varieties with triclosan, I don’t pay much attention to brands or marketing hype.

Before I switched to an electric toothbrush I learned that careful brushing meant that I could avoid the build-up of scale and the need for the dentist to scrape and pick. If I am at home I will brush my teeth four times a day but I don’t use toothpaste more than twice because it is abrasive.

M&S Colgate cavity protection – no mention of triclosan – 95p for 75 ml tube. Seems reasonable.

Tried it. 😀

That’s the toothpaste I’m using at present, Malcolm. As you say, it’s cheap. Some people would avoid it because it contains limonene.

Veronica says:
3 August 2015

TePe brushes once a day would have a greater effect as they remove the debris left between the teeth after normal brushing. Brushing 4 times a day possibly means you are brushing too soon after eating.

Gum disease remains a major problem and brushing helps remove the biofilm containing bacteria that accumulates where the teeth enter the gum. This is soft and easily removed by gentle brushing. If you leave it, harder plaque is formed. Thankfully electric toothbrushes are gentle compared with many of the manual ones on sale.

I stopped using commercial type toothpaste some years ago when I became aware of the toxic effects of fluoride (if swallowed), SLS and triclosan and switched to Aloe Dent which can be bought with or without fluoride. More info can be found @sciencedaily.com – Tooth Gel Healing Power of Aloe Vera Proves Beneficial for Teeth and Gums. At my last checkup my Dentist commented on the “good nic” my remaining teeth were in so I will continue to use it. I have also stopped using commercial type shampoo as most of them contain SLS (sodium laurel sulphate) which is a skin irritant and can cause eczema in susceptible people. I now make up my own shampoo using a mix of Castile Soap, Distilled Water,Tea Tree Oil and Lemon Grass Essential Oil.

If toxins such as triclosan are to be avoided in health products, why are they allowed to be used in the first place?

Fluoridation of water remains an emotive subject but at least we have the choice of whether or not to use fluoride toothpaste.

SLS is a detergent and can cause irritation, as you say. Individuals are affected differently.

The proliferation of ingredients added to foods and included in household cleaning products does concern me. At least we are told what is in toothpaste but unfortunately the amounts of components are not generally stated except in the case of fluorides.

I watched a recent BBC programme about tooth care and was very surprised to learn that it can be better for kids if they don’t completely rinse away all of the toothpaste as it allows some of the fluoride to remain on the teeth and destroy any remaining microbials. My concerns with this are how much fluoride is swallowed over a long period and the repercussions that may follow.

What is needed is a way of keeping the fluoride where it is needed for an extended period, rather than being washed away by saliva and swallowed.

Fluoride does affect the ability of certain bacteria to produce acid but it also has an important role in maintaining the integrity of the tooth enamel.

having a complicated medical history due to polio now post polio, i found i was getting a lot of mouth ulcers, my dentist said to look for ones without the SLS foaming formulea since then have had no mouth ulcers, its just a foaming additive but can be sensative to gums, we have for many years used phillips sonicare now diamond toothbrushes and a water pic unit , it does make your mouth fresh and your teeth feel good and its great not having to pay to have plaque removed. i wish as a child i had this knowledge, i do remeber being so poor using soot to clean my teeth, i’m only 58 so it shows i lost quite a few, i now drink coke zero taste is fine wife says its okay in rum! so be aware SLS has been found to cause some mouth ulcers,i have been ulcer free since we changed

Already made comment on this subject it is not here so must be amongst which archives? So here goes again firstly I thought the Which report in the august magazine was by and large excellent and obviously well researched. However as one who tries very hard to keep my nashers in good shape I was sorry that Which did not look at the really high end products (some would say vastly overpriced rip offs?). However my own experience and with the advice of my excellent dentist one of these very expensive products does in fact deliver it is called UltraDex it is very expensive nearly six quid for a toothpaste and a whopping eight quid for a mouthwash. But as someone who had foul breath why I don’t know not being a smoker or only a very light drinker it was annoying to say the least. I saw an advert for this brand in the M&S magazine and gave it a go. And yes it actually did what it said on the box I was astonished and pleased. However being a sceptical Which devotee for decades I have learnt it can be to say the least stupid to pay high prices for something which a much cheaper product does just as good a job. Well in my experience in this particular instance this is not so also friends of mine who have tried the product concur and seem to be as pleased as I am. However the sceptic in me discussed the product with my dentist and he gave it the thumbs up saying it s highly praised in the dental profession. He does have a few well known products in is sales cabinet but not this-so I do not think he has any axe to grind. There are even more expensive dental products on Boots shelves do they live up to the eye watering price tag-I have no idea? Apropos UltraDex Boots do offer deals from time to time. So Which am I throwing money down the drain? My experience of 95p tooth paste and cheap mouthwashes is they are totally useless. Bye the way I am not a product snob I cannot afford to be.

Jan says:
27 July 2015

I have regular dental checkups and hygenist cleaning appointments as well as the day-to-day cleaning regime so no obvious problems. However, I’ve been suffering from a really dry mouth and a sore tingling tongue which is really unpleasant. I looked up the symptoms and possible causes and found that toothpaste containing SLS could be a possible irritant. I looked at the three different toothpastes I have in the bathroom: Colgate Sensitive Enamel Protect, Colgate Sensitive Sensifoam and Colgate Advanced White and there isn’t a list of ingredients on any of them except for fluoride content.

Jan – The manufacturers should provide this information but often it is easier to find on supermarket websites. Here are the ingredients for Colgate Sensitive Enamel Protect, courtesy of Tesco:

Glycerin, Aqua, Hydrated Silica, Potassium Nitrate, PEG-12, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Aroma, Cellulose Gum, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Sodium Fluoride, Sodium Saccharin, Xanthan Gum, Eugenol, Limonene, CI 77891, Contains: Sodium Fluoride (1450ppm F¯)

JeremyM says:
28 July 2015

One thing not often mentioned in reviews or comments is flavour. I don’t call it “choice” when I have the option of 100 different toothpastes which are all mint flavoured, and many do not indicate the flavour on the packaging. For years I used Boots Smile Sensitive, which came in a nice “original” flavour based, I think, on oil of cloves, but they withdrew it from manufacture a few years ago. The only non-mint toothpaste I can find in mainstream shops is Euthymol, which is not fluoridated. I have had to resort to “health food” shops and brands such as Kingfisher. I am currently using a Jason brand fluoride toothpaste (teat tree and cinnamon) which is OK but not as nice as “original” oil of cloves.

In your article on toothpaste you make much of the importance of fluoride, and yet you make no mention of what is probably the most effective fluoride containing toothpaste on the market. That is Colgate Duraphat 5000. This is the toothpaste my dentists recommends, and indeed is the only one he recommends.

This is not on general sale because of the potential toxicity of fluoride. The same applies with many drugs, where more potent versions are only available on prescription or from a pharmacist.

Please keep it away from children.

Anthony – An alternative to using toothpaste with a high fluoride concentration might be fluoride varnish, which can remain on the enamel for months, unlike toothpaste that is washed away in saliva. The benefit of fluoride varnish is that you would be swallowing less fluoride.

We could do with some input from a dentist.

This fluoride varnish if recommended, should be standard practice at routine checks especially for children.

According to this NHS page, fluoride varnish has joined fissure sealants in preventative dentistry: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/dentalhealth/pages/careofkidsteeth.aspx

I do hope this is happening.

This seems to be the better preventative option for children Wavechange as long as it “does what it says on the tin” and actually seals the fluoride to the teeth and none is ingested. Dentists may be hesitant to recommend this treatment on the grounds it may affect their lucrative monetary interests but I hope my suppositions are unfounded.

Beryl – Here is a link to a Cochrane review, which looks at the subject in detail: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002279.pub2/epdf Unfortunately it is rather long but it is positive about the treatment, even though bias in recording results was uncovered.

Fissure sealants are well established and it is many years since my neighbour’s daughter told me about them.

Veronica says:
3 August 2015

My children were given fissure sealant, just one application in the early 1980s. They are now approaching 40 and neither has a single filling or missing tooth. They certainly didn’t inherit good teeth from either parents or grandparents, and had just a normal twice a day brushing with a low cost toothpaste. Must be the fissure sealant.

shirley says:
1 August 2015

I only use toothpaste that does NOT have sodium lauryl sulphate in as it gives me mouth ulcers. My dentist agrees with this and tells patients not to use toothpaste containing this. Sensodyne original is the one I use.

Anthony Paish says:
9 August 2015

I have read many of the comments above with interest. I am now 83 and have never suffered from any new tooth decay since fluoride was introduced for tooth paste. Twice or thrice a day I use a manual tooth brush, which with care can last for many years (and of course requires no battery charging/replacement), and select the cheapest fluoride toothpaste going, which recently has been Sainsbury’s “basics toothpaste”, costing just 35 P for 75mpl and containing 0.298% sodium fluoride; in addition, it is sold completely without wasteful packaging.

For all us here probably still very ignorant of the facts on fluoride and dental products I suggest you read lots more here. http://fluoridealert.org/issues/sources/f-toothpaste/

I don’t have much choice because virtually the whole market assumes everyone likes the taste of mint, which I hate. The most common alternatives (like fennel) taste of aniseed, which is the only other flavour I hate! At last, I found Citrus & Aloe Vera from Green People which tastes lovely and also has the benefit of being organic. They also used to do Peach flavour, which was even nicer, before they dropped it for no apparent reason.

Fluoride is the least of my chemical worries as a poison. Over a life time we use a micro dose of the stuff, which has proven significant benefits for dental preservation. Does it stay in our bodies? No it doesn’t. Human bodies are no storage bins for any chemistry.
Why are people so bothered about poisons like fluoride? Considering they are continuously allowing and using radiation in their homes (phones, wifi, smart meter, remote controls, phone masts nearby). Radiation is a much bigger threat for the human body than fluoride can ever be. Get real about obsessions with poisons. There are hundreds of poisonous substances that we happily take for granted in our daily lives. Alcohol anyone ? Mind, it is a damaging solvent…..

In all the discussion about the benefits ( or otherwise) of adding fluoride to toothpaste no one seems to have drawn attention to the implications of this for anyone with a low thyroid function. The standard medical treatment for this condition is to prescribe thyroxine,but the benefits of thyroxine are apparently cancelled out by fluoride. See the many web articles on this subject.
So if you have a low thyroid function you may want to consider a toothpaste without fluoride.

hSt33 says:
19 August 2015

There are lots of ignorant comments here Mike on fluoride products especially the varnish ones.
It all gets ingested by the poor victim.

There is a lot of very ignorant statements made here Mike especially the varnish comments its all ingested into the the poor victim. And fluoridation of water will go down as the greatest betrayals of public trust of the 20th century as Dr Paul Connett explains here.