As you browse your local grocery store or supermarket, you’ll find shelves lined with almost too many types of toothpaste products to count. While they all claim to be able to clean your teeth and freshen your breath, they can differ significantly in terms of their active and inactive ingredients.
Most toothpaste products use a handful of shared ingredients, then differ based on their inactive ingredients or flavoring agents. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common toothpaste ingredients on the market and explore what they do for your dental health so you know what to look for in your ideal toothpaste choice.
What Are the Main Ingredients in Toothpaste and What Do They Do?
While the exact ingredient composition of any given toothpaste can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, most high-quality toothpaste products will include a few key active ingredients.
“Main” or active ingredients in toothpaste products are designed to do one of two things: scrape away plaque and bacteria or remineralize the enamel of your teeth. Many of the best active ingredients can do both at the same time.
You’ve probably already heard of fluoride because it’s in almost every popular toothpaste product on the market, and for good reason.
Fluoride is one of the most effective minerals when it comes to fighting tooth decay. In a nutshell, bacteria and plaque can gradually wear down your teeth’s enamel layer over time. While you can’t regenerate enamel once it is gone, fluoride can essentially fill in the gaps and “remineralize” your teeth’s enamel layer.
In this way, fluoride directly counteracts the effects of plaque and bacteria and can prevent cavities from developing over time.
However, toothpastes can use different types of fluoride depending on their ingredients. Ingredients to look for include sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride, and sodium monofluorophosphate. Each of these is recognized by the FDA as an effective mineral for preventing cavities and avoiding tooth demineralization.
Although fluoride is super effective, you don’t need a whole lot to get the job done. Most common toothpaste products only contain 0.15% of their formulas as fluoride or around 1500 ppm.
What if you can’t use fluoride in your toothpaste? You can still find quality toothpaste products, but the other ingredients will have to make up for the lack of fluoride in your toothpaste.
Many toothpaste products also contain one or more abrasives, which are inactive ingredients that scrape away plaque and food particles on the surfaces of your teeth. Abrasives are inactive since they don’t directly reduce the risk of cavities or gum disease.
Still, they play an important role in getting rid of surface stains and food debris from your teeth. The abrasives used in modern toothpaste products are relatively gentle and hygienic and include ingredients like calcium carbonate, hydrated aluminum oxide, and dehydrated silica.
Each of these can scrub and/or polish the surfaces of your teeth without causing long-term damage to tooth enamel. As a result, they are totally safe to use, provided you practice good toothbrushing technique.
Many toothpaste products also contain one or more flavoring agents to help make the taste more pleasant to users. Flavoring agents are important for inspiring people to brush their teeth twice per day, every day, especially kids.
The de facto toothpaste flavor is peppermint due to its refreshing sensation and taste, but this isn’t the only flavor you can find. Most toothpaste flavors are relatively sweet so they’ll contain sweetening agents like sorbitol or saccharin.
Note that toothpaste products that contain these ingredients don’t contain sugar, even though the sweetening ingredients definitely taste sweet. This is intentional as normal sweetening ingredients used in foods, like regular sugar, can lead to tooth decay and plaque formation.
As a result, the American Dental Association only recommends toothpaste that uses artificial sweeteners rather than sugar.
Most toothpaste products include humectants as key ingredients in their formulas. A humectant is an ingredient that prevents toothpaste from drying out over time and becoming crumbly. In other words, humectants allow your toothpaste to stay paste-like for longer.
Sorbitol is one of the most common humectants used in toothpaste products, especially since it doubles as a flavoring agent. Sorbitol is effective since it can trap water in toothpaste formulas, ensuring a smooth and pasty appearance when the toothpaste is squeezed from its tube.
Aside from sorbitol, other toothpaste products might use humectants like glycerol and glycol, both of which do exactly the same thing (though not necessarily with the same sweetening effect).
Then there are detergents: ingredients that cause your toothpaste to become foamy and bubbly when you mix it with water and brush the paste around your teeth. Detergents are important as they ensure that the toothpaste ingredients (such as fluoride) coat the surfaces of your teeth relatively evenly and even enter the gaps in between individual teeth.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is the most common detergent used in modern toothpaste products.
What Is the Difference Between Active and Inactive Ingredients?
Toothpaste products contain several active and inactive ingredients. An "active" ingredient (also called the API or active pharmaceutical ingredient) is an ingredient that has an active therapeutic effect on your tissues, such as your teeth. Put another way, active ingredients are compounds that have a direct effect on the health of your mouth or teeth.
Inactive ingredients are still important, but they are strictly non-medicinal. They don’t have any pharmacological effects on your body.
For example, toothpaste products often contain abrasives, but abrasives are inactive ingredients as they aren’t absorbed by your teeth or tissues and don’t provide therapeutic effects. They just scrape away food debris and plaque.
But fluoride is an active ingredient as it’s designed to be absorbed by your teeth and directly contributes to dental health. The difference between active and inactive ingredients is small, but it’s worth knowing anyway.
What Additional Ingredients Should I Look For in a Toothpaste?
Aside from the really common ingredients described above, you might consider looking for some additional ingredients when you go to buy new toothpaste at the grocery store.
Calcium, Magnesium, and Phosphates
These minerals are vital for overall tooth health. Calcium and magnesium work together, particularly in calcium’s case.
Calcium helps to strengthen teeth and is one of the most important minerals for tooth health overall. Magnesium is less important for tooth health directly, but you need to absorb enough magnesium so your body can absorb enough calcium for overall tooth health.
Phosphates, on the other hand, are also important for tooth health. Specifically, phosphates are responsible for ensuring that your teeth remain attached to the jawbones, ensuring that your teeth remain firm and fixed in your mouth at all times.
Toothpastes that include these minerals will be excellent choices for long-term dental health.
Carbamide peroxide is a compound that reacts with water in your mouth and in toothpaste. When it reacts, it releases hydrogen peroxide, which burrows into the small divots of your teeth and can help to erase tooth stains and embedded plaque.
The result? A reasonably good whitening effect. As a result, carbamide peroxide is one of the most popular whitening agents in modern toothpaste products.
Some high-quality ingredients can both protect your teeth and whiten them at the same time, as is the case with Calprox. This revolutionary and proprietary toothpaste ingredient can only be found in Supersmile’s toothpastes, oral rinses, and similar products.
It was developed by Dr. Irwin Smigel as a solution for a common conundrum: it’s difficult to whiten your teeth and protect them at the same time. Many typical whitening agents grind down enamel and make teeth more vulnerable to cavities over time.
Calprox is different. Thanks to a special formula, Calprox can help to strengthen teeth like fluoride while also whitening your teeth like carbamide peroxide and other whitening agents. It’s an excellent and effective active ingredient you should always look for when selecting a new toothpaste for your dental routine.
For example, our Professional Whitening Toothpaste includes both fluoride and Calprox for even more effectiveness.
In the end, toothpaste products have tons of ingredients to sift through. If you want to make your selection job easier, focus on purchasing toothpaste products that contain the ingredients described above. Fluoride, Calprox, and minerals like calcium and magnesium are the most important above all else.
Want some great examples of toothpaste products with stellar ingredients and no risk of tooth injury?
Look no further than Supersmile. Within our offerings, you’ll find toothpaste, floss, and several excellent electric toothbrushes to pair them with. We also have a variety of guides and informative articles to help you achieve maximum oral health.
Contact us today if you have questions and don’t hesitate to check out our store!
Toothpastes - Oral Health Topics | Ada.org
Toothpastes Ingredients | Dentist.net
What's in your toothpaste? - A look at 5 common ingredients | Delta Dentalins
What Is Fluoride? Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, and Safety | Healthline
Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know | NCBI