Toothpaste most likely originated in China, Egypt, and India more than 6,000 years ago. In China, twigs and bones were mashed and mixed with water, salt, and flower petals to form a thick paste. This paste was then put on the end of a sharp bamboo leaf and applied to teeth. This proved to be a very effective treatment for gingivitis.
In Egypt, manuscripts from the 400s describe a recipe for the best toothpaste. It includes a mixture of mashed salt, crushed pepper, wet mint leaves, and dried iris flowers. Some evidence also points to a form of urine-based toothpaste that was mainly popular in Rome.
India’s toothpaste tradition is based on its strong background of Ayurvedic medicine. Special twigs were used for brushing and each twig was naturally filled with a sweet nectar. By chewing the twig and rubbing it against the teeth, India became renowned for its white teeth, fresh breath, and clean mouths.
If you’re like millions of consumers, your toothpaste is soft, and when you brush, gives you that minty fresh taste. But if you’ve ever wondered what is in toothpaste and what makes one brand different from another, you’ll find the answers in this article.
You’ll find a variety of claims on toothpaste labels, such as gum disease toothpaste, one that fights bad breath, SLS free toothpaste, toothpaste for sensitive teeth, hydrogen peroxide toothpaste, or natural toothpaste. Toothpastes are typically made of certain ingredients that make it the paste that it is. However, there are many variations, with some more effective than others.
In general, most toothpaste includes abrasives, binders, foaming ingredient, humectants, detergents, flavors, colors, preservatives, fluoride and water. The following is a breakdown to help describe what these ingredients are for.
Ingredients in Toothpaste:
- Water — toothpaste contain between 20–42 percent water to help keep it from drying out.
- Abrasives — most brands contain at least 50 percent abrasives. This is one ingredient that helps your teeth get clean. Baking soda, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphates, alumina, and silica are examples of abrasives. High levels of abrasives may not be a good thing, since they can harm your teeth sensitive by weakening enamel. It’s preferable to use toothpaste with a gentle abrasive. The right concentration of baking soda works best to clean teeth of stains.
- Fluorides — most often found active ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride. Toothpaste sold in the United States has 1000 to 1100 parts per million fluoride. Prescription toothpaste contains higher levels. Seawater averages about 1.3 parts per million (ppm). There are three types of fluoride commonly used in toothpaste:
• Sodium fluoride (NaF) is the most often type of fluoride used in toothpaste
• Stannous fluoride (SnF2) is also used. This type may stain the tooth surface yellow or brown.
• Monofluorophosphate (Na2PO3F)
Fluoride has been very controversial from its discovery to help prevent tooth decay. Those for it are convinced that it alone can help prevent tooth decay, while others against fluoride maintain it has too many side effects that outweigh the benefits. The best way to help prevent tooth decay and have a healthy, happy smile is to eat healthy nutritious foods and brush and floss daily. You don’t need fluoride as long as you maintain a healthy lifestyle and clean your teeth and gums daily.
- Surfactants — typically sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is used as the surfactant. This is a detergent that also acts as the foaming agent in the toothpaste. It is a harsh ingredient and it’s better to find and use SLS free toothpaste.
- Antibacterial agents — Triclosan is one of the antibacterial medications used in toothpaste. Long-term use of any antibacterial ingredient may cause more problems than benefits by promoting antibiotic resistant bacteria. These days many personal care products are available and marketed as antibacterial. Toothpaste, dish soap, deodorants, hand and body soaps are only a few of them. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), overloading the body with these types of antimicrobial agents is what has lead to MRSA and other dangerous bacteria that are resistant to any form of antibiotics.
- Flavors — mint is the most common flavor along with peppermint, spearmint and wintergreen. Natural toothpaste brands often use more exotic flavors made from anise, fennel, lavender, and other plants. These types of essential oils may cause allergies and tissue irritation. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
- Remineralization — some toothpaste are formulated to help strengthen enamel (outer surface of the tooth). Calcium phosphate is typically the ingredient used.
- Humectants — humectants give toothpaste texture and help to retain moisture to keep it from drying out. Glycerin, sorbitol and water are common humectants. Xylitol is the best type of humectant since it has multiple benefits, including increasing the flow of saliva, which helps prevent dry mouth, and also has been shown in early reports to help prevent tooth decay.
- Thickeners — carrageenan, cellulose gum, guar gum and xanthan gum are common thickening agents. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity who want to avoid gluten, xanthan gum is a safe alternative. Irritation from this ingredient is rare, with the most common side effect being bloating or gas. This would normally occur by ingesting large quantities of xanthan gum, which would be much higher than what is usually used for toothpaste. Those allergic to soy or corn may want to choose a different type of thickening agent. If inhaled in powder form, xanthan gum can cause respiratory distress.
- Preservatives — to help prevent microorganisms from growing in toothpaste, certain preservatives are added. These may include sodium benzoate, methyl paraben, and ethyl paraben. Between the three common preservatives, sodium benzoate is the safest. Some “natural” toothpaste use citric acid. Too much citric acid may cause side effects such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
- Sweeteners—to improve the taste of toothpaste, especially those containing the horrible taste of sodium lauryl sulfate, such sweeteners as saccharin, stevia or xylitol are added. The best form is xylitol, since it does have many benefits for a healthy mouth, as stated earlier.
- Coloring agents — artificial dyes and coloring agents are not uncommon in most commercial toothpaste. Titanium dioxide may also be used to make toothpaste white. It’s best to avoid toothpaste with artificial dyes and colorings.
Most people don’t give much thought to what toothpaste is made of. Toothpaste has come a long way, from the cavemen using tree resin to ground fish bones, pumice, and sand, to toothpaste, as we know it today.
Don’t be fooled by label claims, but read the ingredients and decide for yourself which toothpaste is best for you. Ultimately it’s the action of the toothbrush that helps remove the plaque, that yucky film that builds on the teeth and gums every day. But choosing the perfect safe toothpaste with flavor that you like can definitely put a smile on your face. It did put on mine over 15 years ago, when I discovered one that works for my entire family. Want to know which one???? Call the office and become a member of our holistic family.
Photo courtesy of Day 91.