Dental Detective: What Exactly is in Toothpaste?

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There are many toothpaste brands and types on the market today, some of which make claims to reduce sensitivity, remove tartar, decrease gum inflammation, and whiten teeth. But, what exactly is in toothpaste that makes it clean our teeth?

Abrasives are used to scrub off stains. For this you need a substance with a slight graininess. Early application of this concept in ancient times is seen in the use of ashes, crushed shells, and pumice. In toothpaste, abrasives may be called “cleaning or polishing agents.”

Detergents of a mild kind are a cleaning agent used to loosen and break down insoluble substances on your teeth and gives toothpaste the ability to become foamy. Detergents are also called “surfactants” because they are able to break through the surface tension of a liquid. An example of this is how dish soap breaks down grease. The most common detergent/surfactant in toothpaste is called sodium lauryl sulfate.

Fluoride is arguably the most important component in toothpaste. If your toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride, choose another brand that does. Since 1914, when fluoride was first introduced into toothpaste, this miracle mineral has been strengthening tooth enamel and making teeth more resistant to decay. No other dental discovery has been more beneficial to teeth than fluoride.

Humectants are a combination of ingredients that help retain moisture in toothpaste, preserve the mixture, and bind everything together. They have names like glycerol, propylene glycol, sorbitol, carrageenan, gum arabic, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, magnesium, aluminum silicate, sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, etc.

Flavoring has been added to toothpaste to make it more palatable. It would taste nasty without the additions of natural and artificial sweeteners and flavorings such as saccharin and sorbitol. You will not find straight sugar on any toothpaste that shows the ADA seal of approval.

Other agents are added specific benefits such as whitening, prevention of tartar and gum inflammation, reducing sensitivity, but we will leave out those for a later article. For now, the above ingredients are the basis for any modern toothpaste today.

If you’re interested in learning more about oral health, call Dr. Thomas Ouellette and our helpful team at Thomas E. Ouellette, DDS, PC. Phone: 303-296-1402. Make an appointment or come by our office in Denver, Colorado.