Toothpaste – Types, Selection, Ingredients, and Safety

Toothpaste is one of the most valuable oral health tools that is required to clean the teeth effectively. Typically, toothpaste acts as an abrasive which loosens the plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface. Moreover, it contains medicinal ingredients that help to reduce gum disease. Common toothpaste ingredients contain abrasives, detergents, fluoride, flavoring agents like peppermint and spearmint.

There are many types of toothpaste available in the market. Often people get confused while selecting the best kind of toothpaste suitable for their dental condition. Usually, toothpaste can be specific to tooth whitening, anticavity, plaque control, and gingivitis. It is essential to know what type of dental problem you want to treat while selecting the best kind of toothpaste. For this, a consultation with the dentist may help you to make up your mind.


Today’s article will highlight the importance of toothpaste, different types of toothpaste, and its ingredients.

What is toothpaste?

In the early years, toothpaste was made from hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. With the advancement in dentistry, toothpaste was modified to suit the changing needs of dental patients. Typically, toothpaste is one of the most crucial oral health aids which come in the form of a paste or gel dentifrice. It is generally used with a toothbrush to clean the teeth and maintain good oral hygiene.

History of toothpaste

In the early days, tooth powder was known as the best abrasive for teeth cleaning. It consisted of powdered eggshells, pumice, and myrrh. Later the toothpowders were made from a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Pre-mixed toothpaste was created for the first time in the 19th century. However, they were not used as much as the toothpowder.

Newell Sill Jenkins and Willoughby D. Miller developed the first toothpaste containing disinfectant and named it as Kolynos, which means disease prevention. Fluoridated toothpaste came into existence in the early 1890s by a German manufacturer. In 1995, crest launched the first clinically proven fluoridated toothpaste, which became popular because of its anticavity properties. Today, there is a wide range of toothpaste available to take care of every dental need of the people worldwide.

What is the importance of toothpaste?

Poor oral hygiene is one of the primary cause of gum disease. Plaque and bacteria develop to start developing after every meal. Dentifrices like toothpaste provide a base with therapeutic properties to solve the issue of poor dental health.

Toothpaste consists of several ingredients that have anticaries, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties which ensure natural health of the gums. Moreover, it reduces the risk of tooth decay and cavity formation. The detergents create foam in the mouth which loosens the plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface. (1)

Fluoridated toothpaste is enamel remineralizes and contribute to strengthening the tooth structure. The abrasives help to remove the surface stains, debris, and polish the tooth surface. Additionally, toothpaste is the best mouth fresheners that leave the mouth with a clean feeling.

What are the types of toothpaste?

Typically, toothpaste is broadly divided into six major types given below –

Whitening toothpaste

With the increasing concern of having pearly white teeth, whitening toothpaste is one of the most popular choices of toothpaste among the population. As the name suggests, these toothpaste primarily help to remove the surface stains and improve the color of the teeth. (2)

Whitening toothpaste usually consists of hydrogen peroxide as the primary bleaching agent. The abrasives in the toothpaste remove the stains from the surface of the toothpaste. One of the conventional abrasive used in whitening toothpaste is sodium tripolyphosphate, which helps to breakdown and dissolve the stains.

Following this, the bleaching agent acts with the enamel layer to improve the shade of the teeth. It is essential to note here that whitening toothpaste does not alter the color of the teeth or reverse a discoloration. It only removes the superficial stains and intensifies the natural tooth color.

It typically takes two to four weeks to get the desired results of whiter teeth. An alternative of whitening toothpaste is a tooth whitening gel. Usually, these toothpaste are safe to use regularly. However, excessive use of whitening toothpaste may damage the tooth.

Anticavity toothpaste or fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride is a natural mineral which is popularly known for its preventive properties. For the past 50 years, fluoride toothpaste has proven to be the best among all other types of toothpaste in bringing a dramatic drop in tooth decay and cavity formation.

Fluoride eliminates the production of bacterial acids that damage the tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Moreover, fluoride chemically acts with calcium hydroxyapatite crystals of enamel to allow remineralization. This way, it strengthens the tooth and repairs the damage caused by an acid attack in the mouth. (3)

Water fluoridation has been an active contributor in preventing the rate of dental caries and cavity formation in metropolitan cities. However, fluoridated toothpaste add a beneficial topical effect that reacts faster than the fluoride present in water supplies.

Anti-calculus toothpaste

Anti-calculus toothpaste, also known as tartar control toothpaste is another significant type that helps to control plaque and calculus formation in the mouth. Plaque is a sticky biofilm which consists of food debris and bacteria. Most commonly, plaque sticks to the surface of the tooth and around the gums.

Poor oral health care often calcifies the plaque and forms hard calculus or tartar that potentially causes tooth decay and gum disease. Anti-calculus toothpaste contains several ingredients like pyrophosphate, zinc citrate, and triclosan, which provide a useful antibiotic property that kills the disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. (4) Moreover, these toothpaste also help to remove the plaque from the tooth surface and around the gum line.

Smoker’s toothpaste

Smoking often leads to tar deposits on the tooth surface, which stains the teeth and makes it look less appealing. With continuous use of tobacco, the teeth become tainted with yellowish-brown patches. Smoker’s toothpaste contains stronger abrasives and cleaning agents, which specifically help to remove the tough stains from the tooth surface.

However, the results of smoker’s toothpaste are better with habit control. Prolonged and vigorous use of such strong abrasives can cause enamel erosion in the long run.

Desensitizing toothpaste

Tooth sensitivity is a prevalent dental issue suffered by people with a thin layer of enamel, gum recession, and tooth decay. During this time, the teeth of the people become incredibly irritated by cold or hot temperatures, food, or drinks.  Hypersensitivity of teeth is usually caused by exposure of the dentinal layer.

Desensitizing toothpaste is formulated to mask the effects of tooth sensitivity. This toothpaste consists of potassium nitrate and strontium chloride, which block the dentinal tubules to reduce the perception of sensitivity. Typically, it takes around two to four weeks for the teeth to desensitize completely.

Herbal toothpaste

For people who prefer to use oral health care products made from natural earth elements, herbal toothpaste is the best product. These toothpastes are fluoride-free and do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate. (5) Herbal toothpaste includes a wide variety of plant extracts and natural minerals. Some of the common ingredients of herbal toothpaste include –

  • Natural baking soda
  • Aloe vera
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Myrrh
  • Strawberry plant extracts
  • Essential oils

A popular addition to the new herbal toothpaste is charcoal, which aids in natural tooth whitening. Other types of toothpaste include –

  • Breath freshener – the primary purpose for such toothpaste is to treat halitosis and provide a long-lasting freshness in the mouth. These toothpaste contain a higher concentration of flavoring agents.
  • Children’s toothpaste – usually, kid’s toothpaste contain less fluoride or no fluoride depending on the age of the child. Typically, children under three years of age are not recommended to use fluoridated toothpaste as it increases health risks upon swallowing.

Moreover, children do not require the same intensity of cleaning with toothpaste abrasives as compared to an adult. Children are often picky about their toothpaste selection and look at things like texture, taste, and consistency of the toothpaste. Therefore, children’s toothpaste comes under a separate category.

How to select the best toothpaste?

Following are the essential tips to help you choose the best toothpaste –

Check your dental condition

It is good to know about your current dental issues so that you can select the toothpaste which can accurately treat the condition. For example –

  • People with tooth sensitivity may require desensitizing toothpaste
  • People with stains on the tooth may go for whitening toothpaste
  • Tooth decay and gum disease issues can be prevented by using anticavity or anti-calculus toothpaste
  • Some people may not like chemical formulations. Therefore, they may go for natural toothpaste.

Read the label

Always check the label of the toothpaste to make sure it is suitable for your needs. Some products are not suitable for children. Therefore, reading the ingredients and instructions can help you to make the right choice. Some manufacturers add specific flavoring and sweetening agents like –

  • Saccharin – an artificial sweetener
  • Calcium carbonate and silicate – potent abrasive agents
  • Glycerol
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate – a foaming agent

Often the ingredients mentioned above are not suitable for patients with mouth sores, ulcers or canker sores as it aggravates the condition in the mouth.

Check the fluoride content

No doubt that fluoride is an essential natural mineral that protects the tooth from dental caries and cavity formation. However, some people prefer to avoid fluoride in toothpaste. For these situations, natural toothpaste without fluoride may be the best formulations.

Expert recommendation

It is best to consult your dentist if you are confused about choosing the right toothpaste. Additionally, when you buy a toothpaste, look for the American Dental Association seal of acceptance (ADA seal) which ensures the quality, safety, and efficacy of the oral health product. Some of the strict ADA guidelines for toothpaste include –

  • Must contain fluoride
  • Must contain active ingredients that improve oral health and hygiene
  • Sugar or tooth decay-causing flavoring agents should not be present in the product
  • There must be a scientific proof or successful clinical trial to support the safety and efficacy of the product.

What are the typical ingredients of toothpaste?

Toothpaste usually contains 20-40% of water. Additionally, it consists of a variety of components which are listed as follows –

toothpaste Ingredients infographic


Around 50% of the toothpaste consists of abrasives. Abrasive agents are typical insoluble particles that are designed to remove the plaque from the teeth. Plaque and calculus removal minimizes the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. (6)

Some of the common abrasive agents include – aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, calcium hydrogen phosphates, silica, and zeolites. Although they are well known for their cleaning action, the abrasive particles can cause minor enamel erosion. Mica is a gentle abrasive agent who has a mild activity as compared to other toothpaste abrasives.


Detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate are used to create the foaming effect of the toothpaste. They add an extra cleansing mechanism to allow thorough cleaning of the teeth and gums.


Humectants usually trap water in the toothpaste and allow proper binding of all the ingredients. This gives the toothpaste a particular gel-like consistency. Sorbitol, glycol, and glycerol are commonly used humectants. (7)


Fluoride is a well-known cavity fighter and an active ingredient in toothpaste that is specially formulated for preventing dental caries. Additionally, fluoride also helps in remineralization of the enamel and strengthens the tooth structure.

Fluoride based toothpaste infographic

Fluoride is highly recommended for children around six years of age to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. However, it is best to consult your dentist to check your fluoride requirements and avoid excessive intake of fluoride. (8)

Flavoring agents

Flavoring agents are typically used to make the toothpaste more pleasing and acceptable to the mouth. A wide range of flavoring agents is used that include peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, and fruity flavors. Saccharin and sorbitol are sweetening agents which may enhance the taste of the toothpaste. However, they are sugars that may also harm your dental health in the long run. Avoid products that contain such ingredients.

A note on toothpaste safety

In recent years, there has been significant concern regarding the safety of the toothpaste. Ofen artificial sweeteners and additives like plastic microbeads may be considered as unnecessary ingredients. However, all the chemicals or ingredients used in toothpaste are always regulated, tested, and monitored.

Most of the toothpaste are marked with ADA seal of acceptance. This ensures their safety and efficacy. To achieve this seal, the toothpaste and its ingredients are checked against a list of requirements set by the ADA. Laboratory tests are conducted to determine the safety of the toothpaste.


Every product that you see in the market goes through a series of tests to fulfill the essential criteria of efficacy and safety. It is likely that the lack of transparency with some manufacturers causes a sense of concern and doubt regarding the safety pf the toothpaste.

This has led to the rise in popularity for chemical-free or natural toothpaste. It is always better to do your research and consult your dentist to update your knowledge about the best type of toothpaste.

Take away message

Toothpaste is an essential oral health aid that pairs up with the toothbrush to clean the teeth and gums thoroughly. Ingredients like abrasive agents, fluoride, foaming agents, and binders help to form the perfect consistency of the toothpaste. Typically toothpaste is specially designed to fulfill all the different types of dental needs and requirements.

Some of the dental issues corrected by different kinds of toothpaste include tooth sensitivity, stain removal, cavity prevention, plaque removal, and breath freshener. With a wide range of products available in the market, the selection of toothpaste becomes a crucial aspect.

Always know your dental needs, read the label, and look for ADA seal of acceptance to choose the best toothpaste. Another best way is to consult your dentist who can recommend specific toothpaste that may be beneficial to treat your oral condition.


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