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Choosing Dental Care Products

With so many dental care products (competing toothpastes, toothbrushes, mouthwashes etc.) on the market today, how should you decide which product to use? This document provides information to help guide your decision-making among the various types of available products.


When purchasing a toothpaste for you or your child, select one that contains fluoride. Toothpastes containing fluoride have been shown to prevent cavities. One word of caution: check the manufacturer’s label. Some toothpastes are not recommended for children under age 6. This is because young children swallow toothpaste, and swallowing too much fluoride can lead to tooth discoloration in permanent teeth.

It is also wise to select a product approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA’s Seal of Acceptance means that the product has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness, and that packaging and advertising claims are scientifically supported. Some manufacturers choose not to seek the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance. Although these products might be safe and effective, these products’ performance have not been evaluated or endorsed by the ADA.

Types of toothpaste (beyond containing fluoride) – whitening toothpastes, tartar-control, gum care, desensitizing, etc.

With the number and types of available toothpastes on the market, the best strategy to selecting among these products might be to simply ask your dental hygienist or dentist what the greatest concerns are for your mouth. Also, be aware that your needs will likely change as you get older. After consulting with your dentist or hygienist about your oral health’s greatest needs, look for products within that category (for example, within the tartar control brands or within the desensitizing toothpaste brands) that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Finally, some degree of personal preference comes into play. Choose the toothpaste that tastes and feels best. Gel or paste, wintergreen or spearmint all work alike. If you find that certain ingredients are irritating to your teeth, cheeks, or lips, or if your teeth have become more sensitive, or if your mouth is irritated after brushing, try changing toothpastes. If the problem continues, see your dentist.

Manual toothbrushes

The main criterion to look for in manual toothbrushes is soft bristles. Both adults and children should use a toothbrush that has soft bristles. Harder bristles might cause gum tissue to pull back from teeth, which can expose the tooth root and lead to increased sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods and beverages. Even worse, receding gum tissue can ultimately lead to tooth loss if not prevented or treated.

Be sure to select a toothbrush head size that can easily fit into the mouth and is capable of brushing one to two teeth at a time. With this guideline in mind, be sure to select a toothbrush with a very small head for a very young child or infant.

If you are unsure of what features to look for or the best bristle head design for cleaning your teeth’s unique contours and alignment, be sure to ask your dentist or hygienist for assistance.

Toothbrushes should be replaced about every four months or earlier if the bristles begin to look worn or frayed. (Bristles that fan out or spread is one sign of wear.)

Manual versus powered toothbrushes

Is there any advantage to using a powered (electric or sonic) toothbrush compared with a manual toothbrush?

Not necessarily. The key to good oral hygiene is correct and effective use of a toothbrush rather than simply an issue of powered versus manual operation.

One of the main advantages of powered toothbrushes is they provide a means to consistently brush using an adequate technique. Beyond this point, however, there are certain other situations where use of a powered toothbrush might make sense:

  • Power toothbrushes can ease the chore of tooth brushing in individuals with medical conditions that limit manual dexterity (such as arthritis), or who are elderly or physically handicapped, or have oral conditions (such as misaligned teeth or teeth with uneven surfaces) that make thorough cleaning of all tooth surfaces difficult.
  • They can ease the chore of tooth brushing in individuals with orthodontic appliances (such as bands, brackets, and wires).
  • They motivate those who don’t brush their teeth regularly. Use of a powered toothbrush might be considered "fun" or "different" such that it encourages tooth brushing. Others might be motivated to brush longer or correctly because of the money spent on purchasing the toothbrush.
  • They better fight gum disease. At least one study has shown that the long-term (four to six months) use of powered toothbrushes produce significant reductions in the amount of dental plaque on the teeth -- and therefore improves the oral health -- of patients with periodontal disease.
  • They minimize or eliminate tooth staining. The scrubbing effect of powered toothbrushes might be superior to manual toothbrushes in possibly reducing or even totally removing surface stains on teeth.

Water piks devices

Water piks, otherwise known as water irrigating devices, are usually unnecessary for most people. Individuals who can benefit the most from these devices are those with braces or other orthodontics who need help removing food between teeth and within the orthodontic appliance. It is important to keep in mind that these devices do not remove plaque. Only tooth brushing with toothpaste and flossing can do that.


Mouthwashes simply freshen breath; they do not clean teeth. Most of these products contain alcohol and are not appropriate for children under 6 years of age because they can swallow it.

Fluoride mouth rinses

Fluoride mouth rinses coat the teeth with cavity-preventing fluoride. These rinses are typically recommended for cavity-prone individuals and can be used in children as young as 7 if they know how to spit out a liquid without swallowing it. Ask your dentist or hygienist to recommend the type of rinse that would be best for you.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/3/2008...#11188