Toothpaste is not required to clean teeth (see about dry brushing, click here). Toothpaste can aid in cleaning, but more importantly, it delivers active ingredients to help teeth and/or gums.
The following basic ingredients are common to most toothpastes:
10-50%: Used to aid in the removal of plaque / tartar.
Examples: alumina, hydrated silica, dicalcium phosphate, salt, pumice, kaolin, bentonite, calcium carbonate (chalk), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), calcium pyrophosphate
0.2-1.5%: Active ingredients are those components of toothpaste that have a direct effect on the teeth or gums. Active ingredients must be blended in a way that their activity is not lost.
Decay prevention: fluoride (sodium monofluorophosphate, stannous fluoride, or sodium fluoride), xylitol [reduces decay levels and enhances remineralization]
Antibacterial agents: Triclosan, sanguinaria extract, baking soda (when greater than 26%), zinc citrate trihydrate, polyphenols, stannous fluoride, essential oils
Tartar control agents: tetrasodium pyrophosphate, Gantrez S-70, sodium tri-polyphosphate
Enzymes to enhance antibacterial properties of saliva: glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme
Desensitizing agents: potassium nitrate, strontium chloride, sodium citrate
Coloring adds pleasant esthetics so that we find toothpaste visually appealing.
Examples: red, green (D&C #5), and blue; titanium dioxide (white)
0.5-2%: Also known as soaps, foaming agents, or surfactants. All surfactants help aid in the removal of compounds that have properties different from one another like oil and water. The presence of detergents requires flavoring to mask their dreadful flavor.
Examples: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium N-lauryl sarcosinate, dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, sodium stearyl fumarate, sodium stearyl lactate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
0.8-1.5%: Flavoring is added for obvious reasons. It is also functions to mask the flavor of the detergent component, especially SLS. Mint flavors, especially when combined with menthol, contain oils that volatilize in the warmth of the mouth. The volatilization requires energy, which is extracted from the tissues of the mouth as heat, thereby imparting a cooling sensation.
Examples: peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen, and menthol, fennel
15-70%: Humectants retain water and help maintain a consistent paste-like quality in the toothpaste, preventing a separation of the liquid and solids in the toothpaste. Humectants in some cases can affect flavor, coolness and sweetness.
Examples: sorbitol, pentatol, glycerol, glycerin, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, water, xylitol (uncommon, but superior), PEG 8 (polyoxyethylene glycol esters), PPG (polyoxyethylene ethers)
0.4-2%: Thickeners create the texture of toothpaste.
Examples: carrageenan, cellulose gum, xanthan gum, gum arabic, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), cellulose ethers, sodium alginate, carbopols, silica thickeners, sodium aluminum silicates, clays
Preservatives prevent the growth of microorganisms in toothpaste.
Examples: sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, ethyl paraben
0.8-1.5%: Sweeteners are provided for palatability and acceptance. Most toothpastes have sorbitol or glycerol/glycerin as humectants which are sweet, but only about 60% the sweetness of sucrose (table sugar), so other sweeteners are needed.
Examples: calcium or sodium saccharin (banned in Canada), aspartame (Nutrasweet)