Everything You Wanted to Know About
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
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
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
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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