The toothpaste aisle always seems to have something new in it, but toothpaste that merely cleans your teeth is passe. "Companies are trying to cash in on the buzz about how good oral hygiene can help you fend off a host of health problems, including heart disease," says Kenneth Young, D.D.S., a private-practice dentist in New York City and MH's dentistry advisor. "This has led to increasing specialization in toothpaste." In fact, a staggering 67 new toothpastes hit store shelves last year alone. To help you choose a tube that's right for you, we checked with a panel of dentists, including Dr. Young; Mark Schlesinger, D.D.S., a clinical associate professor of dentistry at New York University; Paul Levi, D.M.D., an associate clinical professor of periodontology at Tufts University school of dental medicine; and Jennifer Jablow, D.D.S., a Manhattan-based cosmetic dentist.
Best for: Sensitivity
Most sensitivity formulas contain 5 percent potassium nitrate, which blocks receptors that translate hot and cold signals into pain. We like Sensodyne ProNamel iso-active ($5) because it's also pH balanced to help prevent acid erosion. To maximize the pain blocking, says Dr. Schlesinger, spit after brushing, but then wait 20 minutes before rinsing.
Best for: Gum Health
The best way to kill the germs that cause gum disease is to use a toothpaste with the antimicrobial triclosan, such as Colgate Total ($4.50). In a University at Buffalo study, it outgunned a stannous fluoride product. Just brush at a 45-degree angle, says Dr. Levi. This helps the bristles reach up under your gum line, where bacteria burrow.
Best for: All-around
Only one brand, Crest Pro-Health ($4), is accepted by the American Dental Association in six categories. It whitens, reduces sensitivity, and helps prevent cavities, gingivitis, plaque, and bad breath. One caveat: Its stannous fluoride can cause tooth staining. If you notice brown spots, alert your dentist, who can easily remove them.
Best for: Natural
Go natural to avoid artificial flavors and colors, but make sure the brand you choose has cavity-fighting fluoride. The Natural Dentist Anticavity ($6) has fluoride as well as xylitol (which makes plaque less sticky) and aloe vera (an inflammation fighter). Plus, it's free of sodium lauryl sulfate, a foaming agent that may cause canker sores.
Best for: Whitening
Most whiteners are not powerful enough. For real results, pick a product with hydrogen peroxide, such as Supersmile Professional Whitening System ($36, supersmile.com). Bonus: Two tubes keep the toothpaste separate from the whitening gel, the best way to maintain bleaching power, according to Japanese research.
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