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News > What’s in that toothpaste?
What’s in that toothpaste?

Posted 12/15/2011   Updated 12/15/2011 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. (Dr.) John Coke
66th Dental Operations Flight commander

12/15/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  -- Toothpaste, also called dentifrice, is important to people's overall oral health for several reasons.

First, it helps remove plaque and food, freshens breath, polishes the teeth, helps remove stains over time and provides fluoride to help strengthen the teeth against cavities.

It is also big business.

Americans spent over 1.6 billion dollars on toothpaste in 1998, according to Information Resources Inc. of Chicago, a marketing research group. There are no fewer than ten different brands with many different variations of each brand available, such as gels, powders, flavors, whitening, anti-cavity and anti-tartar.

What do people get for their money?

All toothpastes are primarily water and a humectants, such as glycerin or sorbitol to keep the toothpaste moist while it is in the tube.

Toothpastes also contain abrasives to help remove stains, fluoride to strengthen teeth, foaming agents, flavoring agents, sweeteners to make it more tolerable for use in the mouth and binding agents to keep everything together as a paste.

Some toothpaste will also contain baking soda or peroxide to remove stains, pyrophosphates to help prevent tartar buildup, desensitizing agents such as potassium nitrate and xylitol to help fight bacteria.

Choosing toothpaste can be a daunting task with all the choices available. The whitening, anti-plaque, anti-tartar and pastes for sensitive teeth are all a matter of personal preference. The most important thing is to choose one that contains fluoride.

It is also important to choose toothpaste that displays the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval on the package. This ensures that the product has been tested in clinical trials for safety and effectiveness.

It should also be noted that one should only squeeze out an amount of paste the size of a pea, not the amount seen in advertisements that cover the toothbrush bristles from one end to the other.

The pea-sized amount will provide plenty of foaming action to cover all the teeth. It will also make the tube last longer, thereby saving money over time.

Brushing with toothpaste alone is not enough to prevent cavities and gum disease, but brushing, flossing, fluoride and regular dental checkups all work together to improve and maintain optimal oral health.

The dental clinic staff or a family dentist and hygienist can provide more information.

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