How Much Do You Know About Your Toothpaste?

Posted on Posted in General Oral Health

What is Dentifrice?

Dentifrice is used together with toothbrush in order to clean our teeth more effectively. Dentifrice acts as a medium to carry the desired therapeutic agents into contact with your teeth. Dentifrices are supplied in several forms, which include powder, gel, liquid and paste forms. Paste is the most commonly used form of dentifrices.

What is a Toothpaste? Toothpaste is defined as a paste form of dentifrice.

Initially, toothpastes were used together with toothbrush mainly for social & cosmetic reasons only. Nowadays, various therapeutic & preventive agents have been added into commercial toothpastes to enhance the effectiveness of toothpastes. For example, antibiotics, ammonium compounds, bicarbonate, enzyme inhibitors and fluorides have been added into commercial toothpastes with the purpose of inhibiting the formation of Tooth Decay (Dental Caries). Among these therapeutic agents, Fluoride is the most important therapeutic agent in the prevention of Tooth Decay (Dental Caries).

Nowadays, manufacturers have been adding other therapeutic & preventive agents into commercial toothpastes in order to enhance the function of the toothpastes (such as relieving tooth sensitivity, reducing gingivitis & reducing calculus formation).

In a nutshell, the main function of toothpastes include:

  1. Clean & polish the surfaces of teeth.
  2. Act as a medium for applying fluoride to teeth surfaces.
  3. Provide pleasant odour in your mouth.

What Are The Common Composition Of Toothpastes?

Most of the toothpastes contain the same basic components which include detergents, abrasives, colouring agents, flavouring agents, preservatives, humectants, binding agents, therapeutic agents, fluoride & water. The components of toothpaste and their respective functions are discussed in detailed below:

  1. Abrasive Agents:
    • Abrasive agents are important in cleaning and polishing you teeth surfaces.
    • Abrasive agents are the major constituents of commercial toothpastes.
    • Commonly used abrasive agents include silica, calcium carbonate, hydrated alumina, or calcium pyrophosphate.
  2. Detergents:
    • Detergents facilitate paste distribution in the oral cavity.
    • Detergents loosen the plaque and other food debris from tooth surface.
    • Detergents also contribute the foaming action of the toothpaste.
    • Commonly used detergents include sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium N-lauryl sarcosinate.
  3. Binding agents:
    • Binding agents help in preventing the separation of liquid and solid ingredients in the toothpastes during the storage period.
    • Commonly used binding agents in toothpastes are alginates, gums, and cellulose.
  4. Humectants:
    • Humectants help to retain the moisture of the toothpastes.
    • Humectants prevent toothpaste from hardening on exposure to air.
    • Commonly used humectants are sorbitol, glycerol and propylene glycol.
  5. Flavouring & sweetening agents:
    • Taste of the toothpaste is an important selling point especially for those toothpastes that are specially designed for children.
    • Flavouring agents are used to mask the less pleasant taste of some ingredients in the toothpastes.
    • Commonly used flavouring agents that are added into toothpastes include aromatic oils (peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen) and menthol.
    • Sweetening agents that do not cause any tooth decay (dental caries) such as saccharin, glycerol and sorbitol are commonly added into toothpastes.
  6. Preservatives:
    • Preservatives serve to prevent bacterial growth in the toothpastes, thus prolonging its shelf life.
    • Examples of preservatives that are being used in toothpastes are benzoates & formaldehyde.
  7. Colouring agents:
    • Colouring agents are added to make the toothpastes look attractive.
    • These are commonly added into toothpaste specifically designed for children in order to motivate the children to brush their teeth.
  8. Therapeutic and preventive agents:
    • Therapeutic and preventive agents are the most important constituents in the toothpastes.
    • These agents are designed to solve specific problems in the oral cavity.
    • These agents should not react with other constituents in the toothpastes.

What Are The Commonly Used Therapeutic & Preventive Agents?

There are various therapeutic & preventive agents that are commonly being added into the commercial toothpastes by the manufacturers. Each of these agents have their own specific effects which are beneficial to our oral health. Examples of these agents are being discussed below in details.

  1. Fluorides:
    • Fluoride acts as the most important constituent in the dentifrices.
    • The fluoride in the toothpastes helps in reducing & preventing the tooth decay (dental caries).
    • The concentration of fluoride in the toothpastes is the determinant of the anti-caries efficacy of the toothpastes.
    • Toothpastes that are formulated with higher concentrations of fluoride are also available for those people who have high caries risk, however, these toothpastes are prescription-only medicines.
    • Low-fluoride toothpastes are available in the market for young children, these toothpastes provide less protection to the teeth against the formation of tooth decay (dental caries). However, these toothpastes could prevent the risk of fluorosis due to the ingestion of the fluoride toothpastes by the children.
  2. Desensitizing agents:
    • These agents are designed specifically to alleviate the tooth hypersensitivity due to the exposed dentine portion of the tooth.
    • These agents are commonly available in the tooth-desensitising toothpaste.
    • Commonly used desensitising agents include strontium chloride, strontium acetate, formaldehyde, potassium nitrate and chloride, or sodium citrate.
  3. Antiplaque agents:
    • Plaque-inhibiting agents are added into the toothpastes to reduce & prevent the formation of plaque on the teeth, thus preventing gum inflammation (gingivitis).
    • Plaque-inhibiting agents such as Chlorhexidine & Triclosan do not react with the detergents in dentifrice.
  4. Anticalculus agents:
    • Anti-calculus agents are added into toothpastes to reduce the formation of supra-gingival calculus around the teeth.
    • Anti-calculus agents have the ability to reduce the formation of calculus by 10% to 50%.
    • Examples of anti-calculus agents that are commonly used in toothpastes are pyrophosphates, zinc salts, and Gantrez acid.
  5. Bicarbonate:
    • Bicarbonate is an alkaline which reduces the acidity of the plaque.
    • Bicarbonates create a hostile environment to inhibit the growth of aciduric bacteria, thus preventing the formation of tooth decay (dental caries).
  6. Xylitol:
    • Xylitol acts as a sweetening agent which makes the taste of toothpaste more pleasant.
    • Xylitol cannot be fermented by oral bacteria, thus it does not initiate the formation of tooth decay (dental caries).
    • Xylitol prevents the formation of dental caries by enhancing remineralization of teeth and reducing the levels of caries-causing bacteria.


Even though it is rare, some people are sensitive to some ingredients that are contained in the toothpaste, especially aromatic oils. Sensitivity to the toothpastes is expressed in the form of desquamation or ulceration of the oral mucosa, angular cheilitis, gum inflammation (gingivitis) and peri-oral dermatitis. If this happens to you, consult your dentist to find out which ingredients in the toothpastes you are sensitive to, then avoid using those toothpastes with ingredients that you are allergic to.

Besides that, patients with dry mouths (xerostomia) might find flavoured toothpastes uncomfortable to use. If this happens, simply change change to another dentifrice with different flavour that you are comfortable with or use a flavourless toothpaste.

To maintain a Good Oral Hygiene, daily tooth brushing, dental flossing, tongue cleaning and the use of mouthwash are very essential. Besides that, regular dental checkup in every 6 months is also important to maintain your Oral Health.


Your Dentition. Our Passion.

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Article written by,

Dr. Wong Kee Cheong (Tommy)
Dental Surgeon.

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