best in class

Including ones to brighten your pearly whites and help with sensitivity.

By , a writer at the Strategist covering wardrobe basics and personal care.  She joined the Strategist in 2020 as a junior writer. Previously, she wrote about style at Texas Monthly.


Photo: Hugo Yu


Walk into nearly any drugstore or supermarket and at least half an aisle is lined with different types of toothpaste. While it’s nice to have options for nearly any issue, sorting through them to find the best toothpaste is overwhelming. In the past, I have always gravitated toward any tube of Colgate or Crest — two brands my dentists have always recommended — without a second thought. But after taking on this story a year ago and consulting a panel of dentists, I’ve learned the importance of the ADA stamp of approval, the differences between fluorides (and which one’s the gold standard), and other ingredients to look for or avoid depending on your specific needs. Read the “What we’re looking for” section for more details, then check out our expert-recommended picks whether you’re looking for a toothpaste to brighten your pearly whites or help with sensitivity.

The American Dental Association is the leading authority on dentistry in the U.S., which is why Dr. Lana Rozenberg, a dentist at Rozenberg Dental NYC, says, “When in doubt, let ADA steer you in the right direction.” If you see a label saying “ADA Seal of Acceptance,” then it’s been tested and will provide effective protection against tooth decay. This is the case for most of the toothpastes we listed, but we did provide a few natural alternatives that don’t have the seal mainly because they don’t have fluoride (more on that below). A note on fluoride for babies and children: Dentists note that it’s important for them not to ingest too much of it. Dr. Rashmi Ambewadikar, a dentist at Astoria Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, recommends children under the age of 3 should use toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice and children three and up should use a pea-size amount.

Fluoride was the No. 1 ingredient recommended by the dentists we spoke to. That’s because it “remineralizes your teeth in the earliest phase of tooth decay, often replacing minerals that have become lost and might lead to a cavity,” explains Rozenberg, adding that it “also strengthens teeth for even more protection against tooth decay.” There were a few non-fluoride options mentioned that we included, but it’s worth noting that most of the dentists we spoke to would not recommend a fluoride-free toothpaste. “[Without fluoride] you’re skipping out on the main thing doing the work in your toothpaste,” says Dr. Mitch Zientz, a dentist at Wellspring Dental.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is found in most toothpastes: It’s the ingredient that causes the toothpaste to foam. But some people are allergic to it or develop mouth sores from it. We included some SLS-free options here in case you have an intolerance, or if you’re looking for something with less additives.

You might be on the market for a toothpaste that tackles a specific issue. We’ve highlighted which ones have added benefits, be it whitening, for sensitive teeth, aiding with gum health, and more.

This comes down to preference. Most toothpastes are mint-flavored, but in case you’re mint-averse or just want to switch things up, we included non-mint options, too.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target Benefits: Gum health, bad breath | Flavor: Mint

After reporting this story last year, I made the switch to Colgate’s Total Whitening Toothpaste. It leaves my teeth feeling squeaky clean after every brush, and the minty flavor is pleasantly strong without being overpowering. What was most convincing to me was dentists’ emphasis on the toothpaste’s ingredients. Dr. Ben El Chami, the co-founder and chief dental officer at dntl bar, says it has everything to improve gums and teeth health. Rozenberg mentioned stannous fluoride, sodium fluoride, and calcium phosphate, because these ingredients bond to weakened tooth enamel, “forming patches, much like patches sewn into worn-out fabric.” Dr. Golda A. Erdfarb, an associate professor of dentistry at Touro College of Dentistry, also calls out stannous fluoride because it’s antimicrobial, so it helps fight bacteria that causes bad breath, cavities, and gum disease. Plus, Erdfarb says it tastes great.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefits: Gum health | Flavor: Mint

Crest Pro Health was another toothpaste repeatedly recommended by dentists. Zientz recommends the Crest Pro Health line at his practice for similar reasons as the best overall pick: It contains stannous fluoride. “This not only helps with the bacteria-fighting and enamel-strengthening aspects that we expect all fluorides to do, but also with controlling plaque and biofilm buildup and contributes significantly to overall gum health,” says Zientz. You can purchase a three-pack of Crest Pro Health for almost the same price as the two-pack above, making it our best budget pick.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Sensitive teeth | Flavor: Mint

Tooth sensitivity happens when dentin, the water-filled layer underneath enamel, is exposed. Erdfarb explains that exposed dentin sends pain messaging to the brain. She, Rozenberg, and Ambewadikar all suggest Sensodyne Pronamel because it’s specifically formulated to block the exposed dentin. “It’s like closing off a body of water. If nothing’s touching the water, there’s no ripple effect. If there’s no vibration, there’s no pain,” says Erdfarb. We’ve included Sensodyne’s Daily Protection Toothpaste, but the line also makes an SLS-free version, in case you’re also sensitive to the ingredient.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | SLS free | Target benefit: Whitening | Flavor: Mint

If you’re prone to canker sores, Dr. Sonya Krasilnikov of Dental House told us the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) “was shown to cause gingival irritation and increased occurrence of aphthous ulcers [or canker sores] in those patients who are prone to them.” Krasilnikov and Dr. Inna Chern both recommend Hello’s toothpaste, which contains fluoride and is SLS free. That way, you’re not using something that could trigger a canker sore while still getting the benefits of fluoride.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Whitening | Flavor: Wintergreen

Colgate Optic White was recommended as a whitening toothpaste by two dentists I spoke to. While other whitening toothpastes rely only on physical tooth polishers (like silica or calcium carbonate) to scrub stains off teeth, Colgate’s Optic White uses a chemical whitener (hydrogen peroxide) and works well, according to Rozenberg. I started using this about once a week in rotation with my daily Crest Total Toothpaste and noticed my teeth are slightly brighter afterward. It hasn’t fully replaced my daily toothpaste, however, because Dr. Elisa Mello of NYC Smile Design says everyday use can lead to sensitivity. Instead, she recommends using it “judiciously.”

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Whitening | Flavor: Clean Mint

For a whitening toothpaste you can use daily that won’t cause as much sensitivity, Dr. Mello recommends Arm & Hammer’s Advance White. On the toothpaste-abrasiveness scale, it ranks much lower than Colgate’s Optic White, meaning it can help with both tooth sensitivity and staining in the long run. “The problem with whitening toothpastes is that they’re very abrasive, and while being abrasive can remove superficial stains on the surface of your teeth, it also can remove enamel or scratch your teeth,” says Mello. “In the short term, you’re seeing a great result, but in the long term, you may have a scratch on the surface that’s easier to stain, and that’s a problem.”

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | SLS free | Target benefit: Whitening | Flavor: Mint 

Sensodyne’s Extra Whitening formula has the same dentin-blocking ingredients as the Pronamel option, making it beneficial for sensitive teeth. Ambewadikar also suggested it as an effective SLS-free option. It contains hydrated silica, a physical tooth polisher, but it doesn’t contain a chemical whitener. It may not be as effective at whitening as the Optic White, but if you’re sensitive to SLS or have tooth sensitivity, this is a good option to use in conjunction with a teeth whitener.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Whitening | Flavor: Cinnamon

If you don’t like the taste of mint, Zientz turned us to Crest’s cinnamon-flavored toothpaste. He likes that it contains fluoride, unlike other flavored toothpastes. It’s worth noting though that unlike the other Crest toothpaste he recommended, this one doesn’t contain stannous fluoride, only sodium fluoride (which still comes with benefits).

Not ADA approved | Fluoride free | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Sensitive teeth | Flavor: Mint

As we mentioned, most dentists don’t suggest a toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride. However, Rozenberg did suggest Tom’s of Maine because it contains xylitol, “a plus for fighting cavities,” she says. It also contains SLS, “which is thought to help remove debris through foaming saponification, or what we see as sudsing, bubbling, foaming texture,” she explains. But as we’ve noted, SLS can be irritating to sensitive teeth and gums.

Not ADA approved | Fluoride-free and fluoride options | SLS free | Target benefit: Sensitive teeth | Flavors: Mint or berry

Another fluoride-free toothpaste recommended by Rozenberg is this one from Bite. Rather than a conventional paste, it comes in a solid tablet form and is packaged in a plastic-free container. I took mine on a recent trip to Austin, and it was extremely convenient to travel with. The “bits” are easy to bite down on and turn into a subtle minty foam once you start brushing with a wet toothbrush. It is a strange sensation, especially if you’re used to conventional toothpaste, but I got used to it after a couple of brushes. And while the mint flavor isn’t as strong as my usual Colgate toothpaste, my mouth still felt clean afterward. Like the above, Rozenberg points out that it’s formulated with xylitol. You can get it in a traditional mint flavor as well as a berry flavor. And if you want the benefits of fluoride, Bite offers a mint-with-fluoride version, too.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Strengthens enamel | Flavor: Strawberry 

When we spoke to experts about the best toothpaste for babies, Tom’s of Maine Children’s Toothpaste, specifically in the flavor Silly Strawberry, was highly recommended by dentists. Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a pediatrician at Carnegie Hill Pediatrics, likes that there are no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavorings in it and adds that this particular one has a milder flavor.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | SLS free | Target benefits: Strengthens enamel | Flavors: Raspberry, bubble gum, grape

If your child is sensitive to SLS, Ambewadikar recommended this toothpaste from Hello Oral Care that’s SLS free when we spoke to her about the best toothpastes for babies. Another benefit is that it comes in a variety of fun flavors like blue raspberry (pictured), bubble gum, grape, and strawberry.

ADA approved | Contains fluoride | Contains SLS | Target benefit: Cavity prevention | Flavor: Bubblemint

To get your kid more acquainted with mintier flavors, Ambewadikar also suggested this Aquafresh toothpaste. It combines the freshness of mint with the sweetness of bubblegum. And it’s made with kid-friendly packaging: Its stand-up bottle features a pump, “so no squeezing is necessary,” she says.

• Dr. Rashmi Ambewadikar, dentist at Astoria Smiles Pediatric Dentistry
• Dr. Inna Chern, dentist at New York General Dentistry
• Dr. Ben El Chami, co-founder and chief dental officer at dntl bar
• Dr. Golda A. Erdfarb, DDS, associate professor of dentistry at Touro College of Dentistry
• Dr. Sonya Krasilnikov, dentist at Dental House
• Dr. Lana Rozenberg, dentist at Rozenberg Dental NYC
• Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, pediatrician at Carnegie Hill Pediatrics
• Dr. Mitch Zientz, dentist at Wellspring Dental

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