Each morning and night, we squeeze a small dollop on our toothbrushes and brush. For most of us, this activity has become so habitual that we don’t even think twice before scrubbing our pearly-whites. But have you ever wondered what’s in toothpaste and how it whitens and brightens your teeth?
Most toothpastes share the same active and inactive ingredients. The active ingredients are the cavity-fighters and the inactive ingredients give toothpaste its taste and texture. Each plays a vital role in protecting your teeth from disease and decay, and without them, we wouldn’t be able to make our teeth sparkle and shine.
Fluoride is the cavity-fighting superstar. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), fluoride is “nature’s cavity fighter.” Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps strengthen the enamel on your teeth and makes them less susceptible to cavities and acid corrosion.
The power of fluoride extends beyond protecting your enamel from decay. Where enamel has been worn down or lost to decay, fluoride can step in and actually remineralize the areas or replace the missing essential minerals.
Although it’s possible to find fluoride-free toothpaste, the ADA only awards its Seal of Acceptance to products that contain this active ingredient.
Even though they’re classified as inactive ingredients, abrasives play an active role in toothpaste. They don’t fight against cavities or gum disease, but your toothpaste wouldn’t have much an effect without them. Abrasives are the components that actually remove food and stains from your teeth, giving them that white and shiny quality that we all strive for.
The use of abrasives for dental purposes dates back thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used crushed eggshells to remove food from their teeth whereas the Romans preferred crushed oyster shells.
Today, abrasives are a bit gentler and typically include calcium carbonate, dehydrated silica gels and hydrated aluminium oxides. The goal of abrasives in modern toothpastes centers around scrubbing away food from the surface of your teeth without damaging the delicate enamel—eggshell and oyster-free!
Fluoride and abrasives may help you clean and protect your teeth, but on their own, they would taste pretty lousy. This is why modern toothpastes contain a number of flavoring ingredients. Toothpaste flavors usually come from sweetening agents, like saccharin or sorbitol, making it taste sweet or minty.
Even though they may taste like it, sweetening agents don’t contain decay-causing sugars. The ADA will never grant a Seal of Acceptance to toothpaste with harmful sugars.
Detergents are the agents that make your toothpaste turn to foam. If your toothpaste didn’t turn to foam, it would slip off of your teeth and out of your mouth, proving ineffective when cleaning your teeth. Detergents loosen and break down substances on your teeth that are not otherwise soluble, meaning they can’t be dissolved with water.
Recently, internet rumors have surfaced that sodium lauryl sulfate, the most commonly used detergent, is poisonous. Sodium lauryl sulfate has been used in toothpaste for over 50 years, however, though occasionally it can cause canker sores in patients who have a sensitivity to the chemical. If you have a chemical sensitivity, there are many toothpastes without sodium lauryl sulfate that are just as effective.
Remember sorbitol? That sweetening agent that makes your toothpaste taste better? It’s also something called a humectant. Sorbitol and other humectants prevent the loss of water in your toothpaste. When you squeeze the tube, your toothpaste should come out nice and smooth because humectants have trapped the water within the paste, binding it together.
If toothpastes didn’t have humectants, it would dry out or require stirring before use, like paint.
Most toothpastes share main ingredients, which have become standard in your oral care arsenal. However, certain specialty toothpastes are bolstered with extra components, helping you address specific concerns regarding your oral health, like:
Toothpaste is an important weapon in your fight against tooth decay. The individual components all serve a distinct purpose, helping you keep plaque and gum disease at bay. But brushing your teeth is only part of the battle. Make sure you visit the dentist every 6 months to keep your oral health in tip-top shape. If you’re due for an appointment, don’t hesitate to call our office to schedule one—we look forward to seeing you soon!