Have you ever wondered about what people used before toothpaste arrived on the scene? Probably not but my research on the subject did throw up some oddities. Why was dragon’s blood an important ingredient in some 18th century concoctions?
Well it turns out that Dragons Blood is actually a resin, which is harvested from a variety of different plant species and may indeed contain bacteria fighting properties.
I guess things have moved on since that time so what should you be looking out for in the perfect toothpaste?
First let’s look at what the perfect toothpaste, if it existed, would be capable of:
- keeping your teeth and gums perfectly clear of plaque
- giving you brilliant white teeth with no staining
- making sure your gums were healthy and looking good
- getting you a pat on the back from your dental hygienist
- providing all day long fresh breath
- ensuring you have no more fillings
- ensuring your teeth last a lifetime
- protection against any tooth or gum pain
- protection against any tooth sensitivity
- leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth
- not leaving a big hole in your wallet
- all the above only using natural ingredients
When you consider the list above it’s easy to understand why there are so many types of toothpaste on the market. If you have healthy teeth and gums but would like a whiter smile it’s very tempting to try the latest “supersonic, extra strength, triple whitening” formula.
Don’t listen to the marketing hype or be swayed by the fancy packaging and “free” giveaways. The marketers at WhiteGlo below have pulled out all the stops to get you to buy their product – free toothbrush, toothpicks, flosser and built in mouthwash to go along with the extra strength whitening toothpaste. Talk to your dentist or hygienist first, your dental health and your toothpaste requirements are unique to you.
Most toothpaste’s contain fluoride; fluoride toothpastes are generally regarded to be the best option for fighting against plaque and are by far the most popular type. However, due to numerous health concerns regarding the use of fluoride in toothpaste some people are turning to fluoride-free toothpastes. More health concerns are making consumers turn to SLS-free toothpastes, SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) is the ingredient that produces the foam when we brush our teeth, it has been suggested that SLS can cause mouth ulcers.
All these health issues have led to an increase in toothpastes that contain only natural ingredients and it led me to look at what is contained in the various toothpastes and what ingredient did what.
- enamel strengtheners
- binding agents
- humectants (moisturisers)
- flavouring, sweetening and colouring agents
Toothpaste ingredients are usually shown on packs w/w’ – that is weight for weight, or grams per 100 grams.
The job of removing plaque, food particles and teeth stains require toothpastes to have an abrasive substance. These abrasives are the slightly gritty cleaning and polishing agents that make up about one third the weight of toothpaste. Most abrasives are chalk or silica based.
Toothpastes specifically marketed as coffee stain removing or smoker’s formula may indeed be a better a stain removal but will generally contain harsher abrasives than regular brands.
However it’s easy to understand why many people are concerned that the frequent use of highly abrasive toothpastes over many years may damage tooth enamel.
Another concern is harsher abrasives may also contribute to the loss of cementum at the base of the teeth. If the cementum layer is worn away the sensitive dentin layer underneath is exposed and brushing with harsh abrasives may wear away exposed dentin, increasing sensitivity.
As a frequent coffee drinker myself I have considered using stain removing toothpaste but I have pretty much decided against it. I would certainly not use one over the long haul.
Detergent (humectants) (1%-2%)
In the same way we do the washing up, tough stains require a scouring pad (abrasive) but the washing up liquid (detergent) makes the job easier.
Detergents contain cleaning agents called surfactants. In toothpaste, surfactants produce the foam when you start brushing and help pull food particles and stains away from teeth so when you brush you get a more effective clean.
The most common detergent/surfactant in toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulphate and is often found in shampoo. SLS can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil and has been used in toothpastes for over 50 years. Despite the scientific research that points to SLS being a safe ingredient; a small percentage of people do seem to be allergic to it and can develop mouth ulcers or canker sores when using SLS products.
There are plenty of SLS-free toothpastes on the market but don’t expect the same brushing experience, you won’t be getting a mouthful of foam.
Chemicals in toothpaste detergents can also help prevent tooth decay. SLS is thought to slow the growth of some plaque forming bacteria. Another detergent, sodium lauryl sarcosinate, may inhibit the chemicals that plaque forming bacteria use to digest sugar.
Surfactants alone are not as effective as abrasives in removing plaque and stains; they are just one part of a tooth cleaning equation.
Although enamel, the tooth’s outer layer; is the hardest substance in the body, constant attack by the acids in saliva and the build up of plaque can dissolve it. That’s why regardless of what toothpaste you choose to use you have to have brush your teeth regularly.
The majority of toothpastes contain fluoride, an ingredient that fights tooth decay by strengthening enamel and, according to some researchers, by inhibiting bacteria’s formation of acids that attack enamel.
Fluoride’s works via a series of chemical reactions called remineralisation, in which fluoride is transformed into a compounds called apatite’s that chemically bond with enamel to strengthen it and help protect it from dissolving in acid.
The majority of toothpastes combine the caries protection of fluoride with other therapeutic agents to control plaque, tartar and gum disease. The inclusion of antibacterial agents can help individuals improve their plaque control.
Other pastes specifically target “tartar” (hardened plaque) and use pyrophosphate to inhibit the mineralisation of dental plaque and hence the build up of tartar (calculus).
Many people suffer from sensitive teeth and it can start at any time. It is more common in people aged between 20 and 40, although it can affect people of all age groups from teenagers to the elderly. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Having sensitive teeth can result in discomfort levels ranging from infrequent mild twinges to having severe pain for hours on end. It can also be an early warning sign of more serious dental problems.
Tooth sensitivity is caused by the gradual exposure of the softer part of your tooth that lies under the tooth enamel, called “dentine”. Dentine has tiny fluid filled tubes leading down to the nerve. Hot or cold food or drink can cause a change in fluid movement and trigger a sharp pain.
Desensitising toothpaste is specially formulated to create a physical seal against these sensitivity triggers. When used twice daily, it provides long-lasting protection from sensitivity.
Binding agents (1%)
Binding agents are needed to prevent the separation of solid and liquid ingredients in the toothpaste tube. Without the binder, the toothpaste would separate into a liquid portion and a sort of mush and would have to be stirred, like paint, before each use.
Flavouring, sweetening and colouring agents (1-5%)
To make toothpaste look good, manufacturers add colouring agents. Some colouring agents are natural, and others are artificial.
Common natural colouring ingredients include peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen and menthol. White toothpastes often contain titanium dioxide, an artificial brilliant white pigment to make the toothpaste look whiter and brighter.
Humectants (Moisturisers) (10%-30%)
Humectants act to retain moisture and prevent the toothpaste from hardening on exposure to air. If you have ever left the top of the toothpaste tube overnight; you know what I mean.
The most commonly used moisturisers are glycerine and sorbitol; their main purpose is to sweeten the toothpaste but they do help stop toothpaste hardening.
Whenever the cap is left off the toothpaste tube, mould or bacteria can get inside the tube. Alcohols, benzoates, formaldehyde and dichlorinated phenols are added to prevent bacterial growth on the organic binders and humectants.
I reckon it’s easier to pick the winner of the Grand National than nail down which it the best option to go for when choosing toothpaste. The last I heard was that Colgate had 32 varieties of toothpastes to choose from!
I think the best way a narrowing down the field is to divide things up a bit.
- fluoride free
- stain removing
- natural / herbal
- baking soda
Fluoride promotes a chemical reaction in tooth enamel that draws in replacement minerals into the enamel making the tooth’s surface more resistant to acid attack. When you use fluoride toothpaste you are actually coating your teeth with fluoride as you brush. Applying fluoride to your tooth enamel speeds up re-mineralisation process as the fluoride is absorbed into the enamel.
Most toothpaste’s now contain fluoride, and most people in the UK get their fluoride this way as only a small percentage of us receive a fluoridated water supply. The amount of fluoride in toothpaste is usually enough to lower the level of decay.
Fluoride Free Toothpaste
Many people are turning to fluoride free toothpastes due to the growing believe that any intake of fluoride can not only make you ill but can lead to reduced IQ and brain damage. Now fluoride has been a common ingredient in toothpaste for over 100 years (1914) so that may lead you to conclude that it’s 100% safe – that’s not for me to say. I use fluoride toothpaste and judging by my IQ … – the evidence mounts.
If you have a teeth whitening procedure done by your dentist this can easily set you back £200 and usually considerably more. No wonder almost every brand offers a cheaper solution via their whitening toothpaste options.
Basically, whitening toothpastes contain extra chemicals or compounds that act on the surface of teeth to remove staining. While they offer the same cleaning power as their non-whitening counterparts, there is typically a bleaching agent included in the formula. As the teeth are lightly scoured by the abrasives, the bleaching agent activates below the surface of the tooth to remove surface stains and leave your teeth whiter.
Stain Removing Toothpaste
Nicotine, coffee, tea and wine are often singled out as the main culprits of badly stained teeth, I am sure everyone could come up with a much longer list but you get the idea, some things just discolour our teeth regardless of how good you dental hygiene is.
You can get smokers formulas, tea and coffee drinker’s formulas, but they are all full under the umbrella of stain removing toothpaste.
If you find that your teeth hurt when you eat or drink something hot/cold then you need to speak to your dentist. You may have a condition called ‘dentine hypersensitivity’ which means that the dentine of the root of your tooth is exposed. You could also have a least one chipped or cracked tooth that can cause sensitivity.
A couple of years ago I mentioned to my dentist I had some sensitivity and he gave (yes gave) me a tube of Sensodyne. Now being a complete cynic, I really didn’t believe it would make any difference – I was completely wrong! In less than a week my sensitivity disappeared, never to return despite stopping using the Sensodyne after a few weeks. I am not saying you will get off this lightly, but it worked for me thankfully.
Herbal and Natural Toothpaste
Now I may deserve a slap on the wrist for combining herbal and natural toothpaste under the one heading but when it comes to toothpaste the words herbal and natural just seem to be used interchangeably. Feel free to correct me; just don’t make it too technical.
Both the British Dental Association, the organisation representing British dentists, and the British Dental Health Foundation, the independent charity representing consumers, recommend that people should use toothpastes containing fluoride. However, those recommendations just don’t wash with many people and understandable so.
Kingfisher markets all its toothpaste as “natural toothpaste” and was the first brand to receive the important approval of the British Dental Health Foundation for its “natural toothpaste”. The vast majority of brands now have both fluoride and fluoride-free options. Fluoride is a natural occurring ingredient so this does not discount natural toothpastes from containing fluoride, albeit in higher amounts than occur in our water supplies and the food we eat.
Baking Soda Toothpaste
While I’m well aware that baking soda toothpaste is often touted as something that you can easily make yourself and that many people do, I am most definitely not recommending baking soda toothpaste as a DIY solution. If you want to try your hand at making your own toothpaste that is entirely up to you. The only baking soda toothpastes I am referring to are the one’s made by a reputable manufacturers.
The following is taken from the NHS choices website (read the full article here)
- Children up to three years of age should use toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1,000ppm (parts per million).
- After three years of age, children should use toothpaste with a fluoride level of 1,350-1,500ppm. The level of fluoride can be found on the pack.
- Children should be supervised when brushing their teeth until about seven years of age.
- The amount of toothpaste your child uses is important. Up to the age of three, a smear of toothpaste is sufficient, and from age three to six, a pea-sized amount is recommended.
- Encourage your child to spit the toothpaste out after brushing their teeth rather than swallowing it.
There are plenty of resources where you can learn more about your child’s dental health.
Mom Loves Best provides an excellent in-depth guide that’s packed with useful information. I particularly like how the guide covers dental issues that are typically encountered at different stages of our children’s development.
Another a very informative article on caring for children’s teeth can be found at the NHS choices website.
Should you use a mouthwash as well as toothpaste?
According to dentist Dr. Phil Stemmer, from The Fresh Breath Centre in London, “Rinsing washes away the protective fluoride coating left by the toothpaste, which would otherwise add hours of protection.” If you are thirsty drink a glass of water before brushing your teeth!
Dr Oge Eze says – Using a mouthwash that contains fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, but don’t use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth. Choose a different time, such as after lunch. And don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.
So, should you rinse your mouth out with water when you have finished brushing or leave some toothpaste in your mouth? Quoting the good doctor again – “For children, I would say wash out, because if they still have adult teeth that have yet to come through, they may end up with too much fluoride in their body, which can damage their teeth. For adults, it’s good to leave a film, but in moderation – you don’t want a mouthful of toothpaste. I have a semi-rinse: I put a tiny bit of water in my mouth to brush away the toothpaste on my tongue.”
Source: Dr Oge Eze
Now this is not good news to me, I am going to have to change my routine as I generally use mouthwash just after I brush in the morning.
How much is left in the tube?
Well this might not be a frequently asked question, but I wanted to know, so here goes. No, I didn’t test this myself but I knew someone would have somewhere – here’s what they found out.
The methodology for getting as much out of an “empty” toothpaste tube as possible was not exactly scientific; just brute strength squeezing. The test resulted in an extra 13% of toothpaste. That can mount up to a useful saving in the long run.
To avoid doing yourself a mischief trying to squeeze the life out of the tube yourself, I reckon a toothpaste squeezer is an easier option and they keep your toothpaste neat and tidy.
Why do some brands of toothpaste cost more than others?
Many brands of toothpaste are produced from the pretty much the same formula but some will place a special emphasis on a particular ingredient. So, it might be the case that a particular brand contains an ingredient which costs more than the others. If that is the case then it will push the price up. Then of course there are the advertising costs for launching the new “super duper formula” product.
Now, being a cynic, I think it more of a case of what manufacturers think they can get away with charging – others may think you get what you pay for.