Toothpaste is an integral part of almost everyone’s oral hygiene routine. From the very first time we learn to brush our teeth as children, we are told that toothpaste is important in maintaining a healthy mouth and fresh breath. Most people choose their toothpaste by the promises of strong teeth, minty taste and germ-killing properties on the packaging; but what exactly goes into making toothpaste?
Ingredients in certain brands of toothpaste may differ here and there, but the general formula is similar. There are definite metrics involved in getting toothpaste FDA approved, so each formula has to have a few similarities.
The main ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride, a mineral that is found in bones and teeth. Using fluoride to clean your teeth strengthens the enamel and prevents cavities, or brittle teeth.
Another important ingredient is potassium nitrate. It is used to desensitise the teeth and is found in many ‘sensitive teeth’ toothpastes and mouthwashes.
WebMD says that potassium nitrate is used to prevent cavities and to reduce pain from sensitive teeth (dentinal hypersensitivity). Sodium fluoride works by making the teeth stronger and more resistant to decay caused by acid and bacteria. Potassium nitrate works by calming the nerves in the teeth.
Whitening toothpastes may include abrasives to gently polish the teeth. It could also contain additives like sodium tripolyphosphate to break down or dissolve stains. Some even contain peroxide, a whitening agent.
Toothpaste always includes flavouring agents. This is what gives your toothpaste a hint of sweetness and that minty fresh scent, explains Mouth Healthy. Since these do not contain sugar, they also do not promote tooth decay.
Thickening agents or binders such as Carboxymethyl cellulose sodium, also known as cellulose gum, are used to stabilise the toothpaste formula and give it that creamy texture.
Many toothpastes also use food grade colourants to give you that patent red, blue and green associated with several brands. The colours are also sometimes used to indicate which part of the gel is used for which reason. For example, the red stripe can be a specific formula that fights decay, while the blue stripe freshens breath.
And importantly, there is detergent in every toothpaste, to clean the mouth and get rid of germs. Many, although not all, toothpastes contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or related surfactants (detergents), Wikipedia explains. It is mainly a foaming agent, which enables the uniform distribution of toothpaste, improving its cleansing power. SLS is found in other hygiene products as well. Most commonly it is also found in shampoo.