With so many dental care products on the market, how should you decide which products to use? This document provides general information on some basic dental products – toothpastes, toothbrushes, and mouthwashes, and rinses.

Toothpaste basics

When buying a toothpaste for you or your child age 6 years and older, 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.

Choose a toothpaste 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, their performance has not been studied or endorsed by the ADA.

Toothpaste types

Perhaps the best strategy for selecting toothpaste products is simply to ask your dentist or hygienist about your oral health issues. Then look for products within that category that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance. For example, if tartar buildup is a problem, look for tartar control brands of toothpaste. If your teeth are sensitive to hot, cold, or sweets, buy desensitizing toothpaste brands. Finally, choose toothpastes in the form and with the flavor you like. Gels or pastes, or wintergreen or spearmint flavors all work the same. If certain toothpaste ingredients irritate your teeth, cheeks, or lips; if your teeth have become more sensitive; or if your mouth gets irritated after brushing, try changing toothpastes. If the problem continues, see your dentist. Keep in mind that your oral health changes with age, so your toothpaste choice may need to change too.

Manual toothbrushes

Both adults and children should use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Harder bristles might cause gum tissue to pull back (recede) from teeth. This can expose the tooth root and cause sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods and beverages. Even worse, receding gum tissue can lead to tooth loss if not prevented or treated.

Select a toothbrush head size that can easily fit into your mouth and can brush one to two teeth at a time. Select a toothbrush with a very small head for a very young child or infant.

Ask your dentist or hygienist if you need help choosing a toothbrush that best meets your unique needs.

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

Powered toothbrushes

An advantage of powered (electric or sonic) toothbrushes is that they provide a consistent brushing technique. Powered toothbrushes can:

  • Ease the chore of tooth brushing in individuals who have limited ability to move their arms and hands. These individuals include those who have arthritis, 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.
  • Ease the chore of tooth brushing in those with orthodontic appliances (such as bands, brackets, and wires).
  • Motivate those who don’t brush their teeth regularly. These toothbrushes may be fun to use and/or might make others brush longer or correctly due to its purchase price.
  • Improve the fight against gum disease. Studies have shown that long-term (four to six months) use of powered toothbrushes significantly reduced the amount of dental plaque on the teeth -- and therefore improves the oral health -- of patients with periodontal disease.
  • Reduce or eliminate tooth staining. The scrubbing effect of powered toothbrushes might be better than manual toothbrushes in possibly reducing or even totally removing surface stains on teeth.

The key to good oral hygiene is the correct and effective use of a toothbrush rather than simply an issue of powered versus manual operation.

Water pik devices

Water piks, otherwise known as water irrigating devices, are not usually needed for most people. Water piks are most helpful in removing food between teeth in:

  • People who wear braces or other orthodontic appliances
  • People who have an extremely dry mouth – such as those with head and neck cancers
  • People with periodontal disease

Water piks 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 instead of swallowing it. Ask your dentist or hygienist to recommend the type of rinse that would be best for you.

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