If you have yellow teeth
Whitening toothpastes contain mild abrasives that help polish teeth and prevent the buildup of additional stains—but they won’t have much impact on older discolorations, says Augusto Robles, DDS, director of operative dentistry at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
To get a whiter smile, look for pastes or gels that contain modified silicone abrasives, Dr. Robles advises. He says Rembrandt Deeply White and Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening are two effective options. If you’re not satisfied with the results after one month, ask your dentist about in-office solutions.
If you’re plagued by cavities
All day every day, a sticky film of bacteria is trying to form on your teeth, Dr. Cooper says. That film is the plaque, and it interacts with certain foods—mostly sugars—to produce acids that eat away at your tooth’s enamel, which results in tiny holes (cavities), she says.
The solution? The mineral fluoride, which the ADA refers to as nature’s cavity fighter. It coats teeth and protects them from cavity-causing acids. While most toothpaste contains fluoride, Dr. Cooper says you can be certain any product that features the ADA seal and claims to be “anti-cavity” will do the job.
Another tip: Brushing and spitting—but not rinsing—leaves fluoride behind and gives the ingredient more time to work, which can further help those who are cavity prone, says Dr. Robles. If all else fails, prescription cavity fighters like Colgate PreviDent could also help, he says.
If you have sensitive teeth or gums
If your dentist has ruled out other problems like cavities or root infections, the issue could be that you’re brushing too roughly, says Sally Cram, DDS, a Washington DC-based periodontics. You could also have extra sensitive gums or exposed roots, which aren’t necessarily signs of poor brushing or flossing habits, Dr. Robles adds.
Opt for toothpaste containing a desensitizing ingredient like strontium chloride or potassium nitrate. “There’s essentially no difference between the two,” Dr. Cooper says, and either may help lessen the pain. The ADA approves multiple brands, including several products from Sensodyne.
Pacific dental group advice: if you are lazy brushing and flossing, no toothpaste will save your smile. Choose products wisely and also making sure to taking care of the teeth.