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Everything You Wanted to Know About Toothpaste

Toothpaste - What's In It?

While the exact formula of each brand of toothpaste is proprietary, most toothpastes contain the same basic ingredients. These include:

Fluoride: Perhaps the most important toothpaste ingredient is fluoride. Fluoride incorporates itself into tooth enamel making your teeth more resistant to acids produced by plaque bacteria, as well as acids found in fruit juices, soda (both regular and diet) and certain foods.

In toothpaste, fluoride is found in the form of sodium monofluorophosphate, stannous fluoride, or sodium fluoride. Prescription toothpastes (for people with dry mouth, Sjogren's syndrome, cancer, etc.) contain a much higher percentage of sodium fluoride than over-the-counter toothpastes.

Abrasives: Abrasives give toothpaste its cleaning power. They remove stains and plaque, as well as polish teeth. Common abrasives include calcium phosphates, alumina, calcium carbonate, and silica. Toothpaste should be abrasive enough to remove plaque and stains, but not abrasive enough to damage tooth enamel.

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Unfortunately, some toothpastes are too abrasive, and do damage tooth enamel. This leads to tooth sensitivity. Damaged tooth enamel also causes yellowing as the thinned enamel reveals the yellowish dentin layer below. Over the years, manufacturers have been quietly reducing the abrasiveness of their toothpastes. Consumers should look for these less abrasive toothpastes.

Detergents: Detergents create the foaming action we associate with toothpastes. Foam keeps the toothpaste in our mouths, preventing it from dribbling out as we brush. SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) is the detergent most commonly used. Unfortunately, SLS and other detergents have been linked to the promotion of canker sores (mouth ulcers) in susceptible individuals. The presence of bad-tasting detergents requires the use of strong flavorings to mask the bad taste.

Humectants: Humectants give toothpaste its texture as well as retain moisture so that your toothpaste does not dry out. Glycerin, sorbitol, and water are common humectants. Xylitol is an uncommon, but superior humectant, which also boosts fluoride's cavity-fighting power.

Thickeners: Thickeners also help to create the texture of toothpaste and determine how 'thick' your toothpaste is. Carrageenan, cellulose gum, and xanthan gum are common thickening agents.

Preservatives: Preservatives prevent the growth of microorganisms in toothpaste. This eliminates the need to refrigerate toothpaste. Common preservatives include sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, and ethyl paraben.

Flavoring Agents: These are added to improve the taste of toothpaste. You may have noticed that toothpastes often have very strong flavoring. This is necessary to cover up the horrid taste of most detergents, especially SLS.

Sweeteners: Sweeteners also improve the taste of toothpaste. Most toothpaste sweeteners are artificial and contribute very little to cavity formation. Saccharin is a common toothpaste sweetener.

Coloring Agents: Some toothpastes would look down right disgusting if it were not for coloring agents. Coloring agents provide toothpaste with pleasing colors. Artificial dyes are used to make red, green, and blue toothpastes. Titanium dioxide is used to make some toothpastes white.


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