For as long as we can remember, we’ve used toothpaste on a regular basis. But never asked why. We can talk about how brushing with toothpaste helps scrub off the plaque build-up on the surface of the teeth. Or how it helps our saliva wash any stray sugars that oral bacteria can convert into acid. But what’s in toothpaste? And how does it work?
Before we get into this, let’s first ask: why do we use toothpaste in the first place? Humans have been using toothpaste longer than they’ve been using toothbrushes, but why? The first toothpaste was more abrasive than their modern counterparts. Dr. Thomas P. Connelly, DDS notes in his Huffington Post article that Ancient Egyptians made use of “dental creams” around 3000-5000 BC. This cream made use of things like ox hooves and pumice, which helped scrape away plaque. The Greeks and Romans then added to these abrasive elements with crushed shells and bones. Since the creams already did their part, there was no need for brushes to help scrape the gunk further.
As times progressed and needs changed, however, the abrasive element did more harm than good. Eventually, the need for toothbrushes flourished, and toothpaste became smoother in texture. What it did lack in harsh agents, however, it made up for in antibacterial and fortifying agents.
Toothpaste is important for various reasons. Specifically, it promotes oral hygiene and aids in removing dental plaque and food from the teeth. It also helps fight bad breath. Additionally, toothpaste provides fluoride for teeth. Thus, it prevents tooth decay and oral health problems like gum disease.
All this considered, let’s look further into what toothpaste consists of and how they work:
Toothpaste Targets Oral Problems
As contemporary times rolled on, new issues came to surface. For one, modern diets often contained more additives, which in turn provided more fuel for bacteria to work with. For another, new oral ailments began to surface, which toothpaste attempted to remedy. It’s for this reason why current toothpaste has the ingredients they do.
Previously, we did a brief breakdown of the common ingredients found in toothpaste. In a nutshell, they are:
- A whitening agent
- A detergent
- An agent to help sensitive teeth
How do these Ingredients Work?
Whitening agents are abrasive, as they scour the surface of the tooth enamel. As we mentioned in a previous article, teeth can discolor as a result of debris deposits in the enamel pores. These deposits can come from an array of compounds found in tobacco, wine, or tea. What whitening agents do, then, is break down these deposits. For commercial toothpaste, this is typically hydrogen peroxide.
Detergents cleanse the teeth of plaque build-up by breaking its surface tension. In toothpaste, this is usually lauryl glucoside. Other brands have come up with alternatives to counteract its allergenic effects.
Fluoride, as previously discussed, helps in preventing repeat instances of tooth decay. It does this by binding with other compounds in the teeth, fortifying them against bacterial acid attacks. It’s strange to think, then, that it was only during the 50s and 60s that fluoride became a standard for all toothpaste.
Tooth sensitivity has become more widespread in recent years, which is why some toothpaste contains ingredients that help alleviate the condition. These include stannous fluoride and potassium nitrate, among others.
Ask yourself: What do I need from my toothpaste?
Examine the particularities of your teeth and gums. Considering these needs, then look for the toothpaste most suitable. If you are aiming for stronger teeth and cavity prevention, choose a toothpaste with fluoride as its active ingredient. You can find it under the names sodium fluoride, sodium mono fluorophosphate, or stannous fluoride.
For individuals with sensitive teeth, look for pastes with strontium chloride or potassium nitrate. Toothpaste with these substances are ideal for people whose teeth are sensitive to temperature changes or hypersensitivity. Potassium nitrate in specific relaxes the teeth’s nerves.
Toothpaste with carbamide peroxide or hydrogen, a bleaching agent, can help in prolonging tooth-whitening done by a professional. Whitening toothpaste contains abrasives and ingredients that can remove stains on the teeth’s enamel. To reduce gingivitis, you can look for tooth pastes with chlorhexidine or essential oils.
Do not be enticed by words you see on the box or hear in commercials. Look at the ingredients and the features of the toothpaste. It is also important that the toothpaste has American Dental Association (ADA) approval. This ensures that it is safe for the teeth and provides the features that they claim.
And although price must not be the primary consideration in choosing toothpaste, be careful of cheaper toothpaste sold at discount or dollar stores. These may not be as effective in protecting your pearly whites. These toothpastes may contain less essential ingredients. Many of them are also not ADA-approved, are close to expiration, contain a harmful ingredient, or may have lower levels of tooth-healthy ingredients such as fluoride.
You can also consult your dentist for advice on choosing the best toothpaste for you.