In your search for the right toothpaste, you’re inundated with dozens of choices, each promising whiter teeth, fresher breath or fewer cavities. Cutting through the various marketing claims, though, you’ll find most toothpaste brands are surprisingly alike, each containing the same basic ingredients. Taken together, these ingredients help toothpaste perform its primary task — removing daily bacterial plaque from tooth surfaces.
Here, then, are some of the ingredients you’ll find — or want to find — in toothpaste.
Abrasives. A mild abrasive increases your brushing effectiveness removing sticky food remnants from teeth. And unlike the burnt, crushed eggshells of the ancient Egyptians or the brick dust used by 18th Century Brits, today’s toothpaste abrasives — hydrated silica (from sand), calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphates — are much milder and friendlier to teeth.
Detergents. Some substances in plaque aren’t soluble, meaning they won’t break down in contact with water. Such substances require a detergent, also known as a surfactant. It performs a similar action as dishwashing or laundry soaps breaking down grease and stains — but the detergents used in toothpaste are much milder so as not to damage teeth or irritate gum tissues. The most common detergent, sodium lauryl sulfate, is gentle but effective for most people. If it does cause you irritation, however, you may want to look for a paste that doesn’t contain it.
Fluoride. This proven enamel strengthener has been routinely added to toothpaste since the 1950s, and is regarded as one of the most important defenses against tooth decay. If you’re checking ingredients labels, you’ll usually find it listed as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorosphosphate (MFP). And since it inhibits bacterial growth, fluoride toothpastes don’t require preservative additives.
Humectants, binders and flavoring. Humectants help toothpaste retain moisture, while binders prevent blended ingredients from separating; without them your toothpaste would dry out quickly and require stirring before each use. And, without that sweet (though without added sugar) and normally mint flavoring, you wouldn’t find the average toothpaste very tasty.
The ADA Seal of Approval. Although not an ingredient, it’s still sound advice to look for it on toothpaste packaging. The seal indicates the product’s health claims and benefits are supported by the research standards set by the American Dental Society; and all ADA approved toothpastes will contain fluoride.
If you would like more information on toothpaste and other oral hygiene products, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Toothpaste: What’s in it?”