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Dealing with toothpaste options overload

An explosion of specialized toothpastes and gels whose manufacturers brag about their powers to whiten teeth, reduce plaque, curb sensitivity and fight gingivitis, sometimes all at the same time, can leave you totally befuddled when deciding which one to buy.

Add in all the flavors and sizes, plus price hikes, and the confusion only grows around the once simple errand of buying toothpaste.

On "The Early Show" Thursday, Dr. Nancy Rosen, a New York dentist, explained the differences among the choices:

There are so many products out there because there are different needs for different problems or desires. We all want a toothpaste that helps prevent cavities - so first, look for a toothpaste with fluoride.

I don't think brand makes a difference. People go with their favorites, what they are comfortable with, or sometimes new options on the market.

You do not have to spend a lot of money on a fancy toothpaste. I can't emphasize this enough - FLUORIDE! That is the most important ingredient someone should be looking for. Everything else can be helpful, but fluoride is a must!

When considering other properties of toothpaste, such as whitening toothpastes, tartar-control, gum care, desensitizing, etc -- the best advice might be to simply ask your dental hygienist or dentist what the greatest concerns are for your mouth.

There is truth behind claims on many toothpaste labels. Products labeled "prevents plaque and gingivitis" or "tartar control" and bearing the American Dental Association's seal must provide clinical-trial evidence that they perform those tasks better than standard toothpastes. Claims without the seal may or may not be valid.

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 those products might be safe and effective, these products' performance have not been evaluated or endorsed by the ADA.

I feel toothpastes can make a difference when targeting dental problems. My patients who use the sensitivity-geared toothpastes find them very helpful for their sensitivity. Some of my patients tell me they look forward to brushing because of the different flavors.

Tartar-fighting toothpastes

How they work: Pyrophosphates, Triclosan, Zinc citrate or Sodium Hexametaphosphate are ingredients in tartar- control toothpastes that can help prevent buildup of hardened deposits in teeth.

Sensitivity-fighting toothpastes

How they work: Strontium chloride or Potassium nitrate help block the transmission of sensation from the surface of the tooth to the nerve.

Whitening toothpastes

Whitening toothpastes are great to maintain color and keep away superficial stain. They will not actually whiten the teeth.

How they work: Silica and enzymes act as mild abrasives to scrape surface stains.

Home recipe: Baking soda and water toothpaste

Baking soda is an abrasive, so it helps remove surface stain. It's in many of the whitening toothpastes. People use baking soda and water, make a paste and use it to remove stains. This should not be done too often, because it can be too abrasive on the enamel.