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The human mouth is home to millions of microorganism. Although most are harmless, some can cause oral infections such as tooth decay or gum disease. These microorganisms feed on left over food particles and product acid and volatile sulfur molecules. Acid damages the tooth enamel which can lead to the formation of cavities while volatile sulfur molecules cause bad breath. The purpose of toothpaste, along with a toothbrush, is to clean teeth and fight plaque while delivering active ingredients to promote healthy teeth and gums.
There are many different toothpaste currently being offered on the market. While each brand has slight variations in their formula, most contain the same basic ingredients: abrasives, coloring agents, detergents, flavoring, fluoride, humectants, thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners, and whiteners.
Abrasives: used to remove plaque and tartar, abrasives give toothpaste their cleaning power. Abrasives also polish teeth and remove stains. Common abrasives include alumina, hydrated silica, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
It is important to note that toothpastes which are too abrasive can damage tooth enamel. This can result in tooth sensitivity and yellowing of the teeth.
Coloring Agents: coloring adds visual appeal to toothpaste. Examples of coloring agents are red, green (D&C #5), and blue. Titanium dioxide is used to make toothpaste white.
Detergents: are also referred to as soaps, foaming agents, or surfactants. Detergents are used to remove compounds that have varied properties such as oil and water. The foaming action from the detergents also prevents toothpaste from dripping out of the mouth while brushing. The presence of detergent requires flavoring to mask their flavor. Common detergents include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl sacrosinate. Unfortunately, these ingredients have been reported to cause canker sores or mouth ulcers in some users. For those who suffer from canker sores, we recommend the use of a SLS free toothpaste.
Humectants: are used to maintain a consistent paste-like texture and retain water in the toothpaste. Retaining water prevents the separation of liquid and solid. Examples of humectants include sorbitol, glycerin, water, and pentatol. Xylitol is an uncommon, but superior humectant.
Flavoring: is included to improve the taste of toothpaste. It also masks the flavor of detergent components especially SLS. Commonly used flavorings are peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen, and menthol.
Fluoride: also known as sodium monofluorophosphate, fluoride works to prevent decay by incorporating itself into the tooth enamel. This makes teeth more resistant to acids product by plaque bacteria.
Preservatives: are included to prevent the growth of microorganisms in the toothpaste. Commonly used preservatives are sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, and ethyl paraben.
Sweeteners: are only intended to improve taste. Examples of sweeteners are xylitol, calcium or sodium saccharin and /pages/ aspartame.
Whiteners: are added to toothpaste, but cannot actually whiten teeth. Instead, whiteners work to reduce stains on teeth. Examples include peroxide, citroxain, and certain abrasives. Whitening Toothpastes.
A new group of toothpastes has recently become available. These remineralization toothpastes are not only approved by the FDA to treat tooth sensitivity but research indicates that these Calcium Phosphate complexed toothpastes has also been shown to remineralizes the enamel i.e. reverse small cavities (incipient caries).