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Toothpaste Ingredients: A – Z

Toothpaste on toothbrush

What is toothpaste made of? Are there harmful ingredients in toothpaste?

Such simple questions, yet the answer is a long one. Many off-the-shelf toothpastes contain a plethora of ingredients.

But it’s a good idea to understand exactly what you are putting into your mouth on a daily basis and why. There are good cases for and against some of the most common ingredients.

If you want to understand the chemicals in your toothpaste, have a read through the sections about:

If you’re interested in toothpaste with minimal or natural ingredients, see our post on the best natural toothpastes.

And visit our toothpaste hub page to find all of our toothpaste content.

Active vs Inactive Ingredients

First of all, the easiest way to split the ingredients found in toothpaste is active ingredients and inactive ingredients.

Generally speaking active ingredients are medicinal in purpose, whereas the inactive ingredients are the remaining components that help to hold the toothpaste together.

Active and inactive ingredients are both relevant in toothpastes which boast health benefits. The MHRA explains that toothpastes could be classified in a number of different ways; which category a toothpaste falls under is dependent on the product’s composition, mode of action and presentation. The possible categories include a medicinal product, a medical device, or a cosmetic.

The difference between the three is complex, and the MHRA takes every product on a case by case basis. 

Essentially, in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) defines an medicinal product as: “any substance or combination of substances presented as having properties of preventing or treating disease in human beings.”

This means that any ingredient that is intended to function as a health benefit is an active ingredient. In the case of toothpaste, this includes fluoride, for the prevention of tooth decay, as well as ingredients specific for curing sensitivity.

It is worth being aware that just because a toothpaste contains herbal or ‘natural’ ingredients, it is not necessarily excluded from being a medicinal product. 

Medicinal products can also be further divided as those available as pharmacy medicines, presciption only medicines or as general sale medicines.

The MHRA goes on to describe medical devices as  “any …[material or other article]…intended by the manufacturer to be used for human beings for the purpose of: — diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease, … and which does not achieve its principal intended action in or on the human body by pharmacological, immunological or metabolic means, but which may be assisted in its function by such means.” This is probably the most confusing of categories, and also the least commonly used with regards to toothpaste.

Alternatively, a toothpaste may also be considered to be a cosmetic product. This is further explained by the The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CPTA) who advise that a cosmetic is: “any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body … or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in good condition or correcting body odours”.

In this case, a toothpaste can be considered a cosmetic due to its general cleaning and preventive properties (including the use of fluoride). The preventative effect is secondary and is not normally the intended purpose of the toothpaste. 

Most regular toothpastes are likely to be regulated as a cosmetic in the UK. Toothpastes with additional active ingredients and claims of health benefits (such as for sensitivity or for gum disease) are more likely to be medicinal products.

The main differences between these categories are accessibility and testing before going to market. There are also strict regulations around advertising standards for medicinal products.

The take home message?

There are different levels of regulation for your toothpaste depending on whether it is a medicine or a cosmetic. This is something worth considering when looking at the ingredients list and when picking your toothpaste.

What type of ingredients are added to toothpaste?

So the toothpaste – be that a paste, a gel, or even a tablet form – contains many ingredients. You may be wondering if there are any harmful or toxic ingredients. To understand the ingredients better, and help you make you mind up about what you want in a toothpaste, let’s go through the functions of toothpaste ingredients.

Abrasives

Abrasives are used to cause a small amount of abrasion. 

In toothpaste, these small particles act like an exfoliant to target the biofilm (plaque) on teeth. They help to physically remove the bacteria and small amounts of food debris on your teeth. Abrasive particles nowadays are mostly made from:

  • Aluminium hydroxide
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Charcoal
  • Hydrated silica
  • Sodium bicarbonate

The relative dentine abrasivity (RDA) is used to measure how abrasive toothpaste is. Toothpaste with a higher abrasive index has been linked to a greater incidence of abrasive wear on teeth. However hard bristles and incorrect brushing technique, as well as high levels of acid in modern diets, is a greater cause of tooth wear. 

Whilst too much abrasion can cause problems, without an abrasive you won’t achieve a comprehensive clean.

Tartar control and whitening toothpastes are known to be slightly more abrasive. If you are a smoker, then using smoker’s abrasive toothpaste will be more effective at removing staining compared to other brands, but also can cause more damage. Some of the most abrasive toothpastes on the market include Colgate Tartar Control and Crest Multicare Whitening. 

Whilst abrasive toothpastes cause damage if used long term, they do have a role in removing staining at home if used occasionally.

Tooth abrasion can be avoided by using low-abrasive toothpastes.

The table below shows the abrasiveness of some popular toothpastes. Anything below 70-80 RDA on the index is considered low-abrasive.

04      Toothbrush with plain water   91      Aquafresh Sensitive
07      Plain baking soda 93      Tom’s of Maine
15      Weleda Salt Toothpaste94      Rembrandt Plus
30      Elmex Sensitive Plus95      Oxyfresh with Fluoride
30      Weleda Plant Tooth Gel 95      Crest Regular
35      Arm & Hammer Dental Care97      Oxyfresh Powder
40      Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel101     Natural White
42      Arm & Hammer Mentadent Advance Whitening   103     Mentadent
44      Squiggle Enamel Saver103     Arm & Hammer Sensation   
45      Weleda Calendula Toothpaste104     Sensodyne Extra Whitening  
45      Weleda Pink Toothpaste with Ratanhia  106     Colgate Platinum
45      Oxyfresh 106     Arm & Hammer Advance White Extreme Whitening
48      Arm & Hammer Dental Care Sensitive  107     Crest Sensitivity Protection
49      Tom’s of Maine Sensitive110     Colgate Herbal
52      Arm & Hammer Peroxicare Regular~80     Amway Glister
53      Rembrandt Original113     Aquafresh Whitening
53      Closys117     Arm & Hammer Advance White Gel  
54      Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Bold Mint   117     Arm & Hammer Sensation Tartar Control   
57      Tom’s of Maine Childrens120     Close Up with Baking Soda
62      Supersmile 124     Colgate Whitening
63      Rembrandt Mint   130     Crest Extra Whitening
68      Colgate Regular133     Ultra Brite
70      Arm & Hammer Advance White Sensitive139     Colgate Total Clean Mint
70      Colgate 2-in-1 Fresh Mint144     Crest Multicare Whitening
78      Biotene145     Ultra Brite Advanced Whitening Formula
102    Sensodyne Repair and Protect150     Pepsodent
80      AIM165     Colgate Tartar Control
80      Close Up168     Arm & Hammer Dental Care PM Fresh Mint  
81      Colgate Pro-Relief (Pro-Argin)176     Nature’s Gate Paste
82      Under the Gum200     Colgate 2-in-1TartarControl/Whitening
83      Colgate Sensitive Max Strength200     FDA recommended upper limit 
87      Nature’s Gate250     ADA recommended upper limit
A table showing the the abrasiveness of popular toothpastes

Detergent

Detergents creating the foaming action normally associated with toothpaste (and other cleaning products, such as shampoo). Foaming helps to spread the toothpaste, so that the active ingredients can get into hard to reach places. Foaming also helps loosen and lift debris in the mouth, such as small food particles between the teeth.

The most commonly used detergent is sodium lauryl sulfate.

Buffering agents

Buffering agents help keep the pH of a toothpaste constant. This prevents the toothpaste becoming too acidic or alkaline. 

Keeping the pH at the right level is important to help other ingredients, such as fluoride, work as well as they possibly can. Buffering agents include:

  • Aluminum hydroxide
  • Sodium hydroxide.

Flavouring and colouring agents 

To help make toothpaste more appealing to look at, and use, day after day, flavours and colouring agents are added. 

Toothpastes should not contain sugar, as sugar causes decay, but instead they will contain sweeteners. Sweeteners provide a pleasant taste whilst not causing any harm. In fact, some sweeteners provide the added benefit of actually helping to protect the teeth and gums!

Some ingredients may be sweeteners but also play another role in a toothpaste. The sweetening effect might not even be the most important job of that ingredient! Sweeteners include sodium saccharin, sorbitol, and xylitol.

The most common flavour of toothpaste is mint, but other flavours include cinnamon and fruit.

Artificial colours can be added to toothpaste to improve the appearance of the toothpaste – to make it appear white, red, or blue for example.

Humectants

Humectants in toothpaste help keep the water in the toothpaste, and so prevent it from drying out. Humectants help keep a smooth consistency to your toothpaste, even after it has been opened. 

Some humectants also act as sweeteners in toothpaste, even if this isn’t their main purpose.

Humectants in toothpaste include:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Sorbitol 

Preservatives

Preservatives in toothpaste prevent nasty bacteria and fungus from growing on your toothpaste after it has been opened. Sodium benzoate and parabens are the most common preservatives used in toothpaste.

Remineralizing and other therapeutic agents

Remineralizing

If the main reason to use toothpaste is to avoid decay, then the remineralizing agents really are the most important ingredient in toothpaste.

Remineralizing agents re harden tooth enamel softened in the decay process. The most widely known is fluoride. Other options include calcium phosphates, either stand alone or in addition to fluoride.

Fluoride-free toothpaste

Using a toothpaste without fluoride will mean that you do not get the protective remineralization effect of regular toothpaste. This may not be a concern if you are of very low risk of dental decay or tooth wear, but you should discuss this with your dentist.

Some toothpastes use an alternative to fluoride to help the teeth remineralize, for example Boka toothpaste which uses a type of calcium phosphate.

Therapeutic agents

Therapeutic agents in a toothpaste are the ingredients that have specific functions such as controlling tartar or improving gum disease. This may also include ingredients which block tubules to help reduce sensitivity.

Water

Water is the ingredient that makes toothpaste a paste or gel, rather than a powder. It dissolves the other ingredients.

A-Z of ingredients

Alcohol

Alcohol can be added to toothpastes as a preservative, and to help enhance flavours of the product. This is not alcohol in the traditional drink sense, and so products containing alcohol may still be labelled as alcohol free.

Alcohol in toothpaste may be referred to as alcohol, SD alcohol, denatured 38B, SD alcohol 38-B, or SD alcohol 38B. Alcohol may also be present as benzyl alcohol – also referred to as A-toluenol, Benzenmethanol, benzylic alcohol, phenylcarbinol, phenylmethanol or phenulmethyl alcohol. 

Alcohol is a broad term and is not always the same as alcohol which can be drunk as a beverage – ethanol – but rather is a name for a group of ingredients with a common “functional group” or structure. The denatured alcohol does not have intoxicating effects, and is approved for use in medicines in the UK.

The alcohol can be sourced as a natural ingredient or can be manufactured.

According to the EWG Specially denatured (SD) alcohol is a mixture of ethanol with a denaturing agent. 

There is some association between alcohol and dry mouth. Other problems associated with ethanol (cancer, developmental toxicity, and allergies) are related to excessive oral ingestion, however these potential risks are significantly less in the use of toothpaste.

Aluminum Hydroxide

Aluminum hydroxide is multifunctional. Its main functions are as a buffering agent, preventing toothpaste becoming too acidic. It is also used as a colourant due to its naturally white colour.

Aluminium hydroxide has been deemed safe in toothpastes by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety,  so long the maximum dose of it is 2.65% in toothpaste. It is also an ingredient in antacid medications. 

There has been speculation that aluminium or aluminium compounds could play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and other health problems, as outlined by the EWG. Overall, scientific research has failed to find a cause and effect relationship between Aluminium compounds and these health conditions. It is also worth noting that very little aluminium is absorbed via oral routes.

Aqua

Aqua is simply another name for water. Aqua is the name provided in accordance with the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, which helps manufacturers labelling products around the world. Water acts as a solvent, to hold the ingredients of the toothpaste.

Arginine

Arginine is a therapeutic ingredient, and is used to treat sensitivity by blocking the exposed dentin tubules (where the nerves are exposed). Blocking these tubules and the exposed nerves prevents irritation of the nerve and so reduces tooth sensitivity.

I have written about some good sensitive toothpaste choices here.

Arginine may also be added with zinc to some toothpastes to help deliver zinc as an active ingredient.

Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, used to improve the taste of toothpastes. Aspartame does not cause dental decay despite its sweetening effects.

The European Food Safety Authority  and UK Government have both approved the use of aspartame as a general purpose sweetener. It is much sweeter than sugar, so low amounts can be used for flavouring. 

It has been subject to many scientific studies, especially with regards to concerns on its ability to cause cancer. 

However, the Cancer Research UK states:

“the best evidence shows that artificial sweeteners in our food and drink, like aspartame, do not increase the risk of cancer.”

It is worth nothing that for the small number of people who suffer from a rare disease called PKU, they can have difficulty breaking down phenylalanine, a component of aspartame, and are therefore advised to control their intake of phenylalanine, including in the form of aspartame.

Calcium Carbonate

Calcium carbonate is added to toothpastes as an abrasive, to help remove plaque when brushing, and aid polishing of tooth surfaces. 

Calcium carbonate is widely used in cosmetics such as foundation, as a colourant in sweets, mints and chewing gum. It is generally recognised as safe (GRAS) by the FDA and is also approved for use in OTC medicines, such as antacid.

Calcium carbonate can be obtained from natural sources such as chalk, limestone, but can also be manufactured synthetically.

Calcium peroxide

Calcium peroxide is a bleaching agent, which could lighten the overall colour of teeth if it in a high enough concentration.

Calcium Phosphates

Calcium phosphates may be added to toothpaste to prevent and repair damage to the tooth surface. It is a beneficial remineralising ingredient, but is not as common or as well known as fluoride. It is thought that adding calcium phosphates to a toothpaste, alongside fluoride, improves the rehardening of the tooth structure which has been damaged by early decay or tooth wear.

Calcium phosphates include: 

  • tricalcium phosphate (TCP)
  • amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP)
  • Hydroxyapatite (HAP)

TCP is not found in nature, but can be produced. TCP has been investigated and found to be a good remineralising agent, but at present is only available in a small number of toothpastes.

ACP can be found in a very small number of toothpastes, where the ingredient enhanced remineralisation by fluoride. 

HAP is found naturally in the body – in fact enamel is 97% HAP! According to this research “HAP is as effective as Chlorhexidine (CHX) in plaque reduction and as effective as Fluoride (NaF) in remineralizing initial enamel lesions”. A 2014 review of the literature goes so far as to say that nano-hydroxyapatite is actually more effective than fluoride at healing initial carious lesions (cavities).

Carrageenan

Carrageenan is used in toothpastes as a thickener. 

It is approved for use in foods in the UK, and is used in chewing gums as well as toothpastes. It has been linked to intestinal problems such as inflammation and bloating, in studies on animals. 

However a 2018 review explains that there is insufficient evidence against safety of the ingredient.

Carrageenan is a jelly like material obtained from red seaweed (marine algae).

Cellulose

Cellulose is a thickener, used to moderate the consistency of toothpaste.

Charcoal

Charcoal is an abrasive that can be added to toothpaste to help to remove stains from teeth. It is a relatively new ingredient in the market of commercial toothpastes.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, activated charcoal is used to trap poisons and chemicals by absorbing them into the charcoal.  It has not been assessed by the FDA in the US, nor any British Dental Organisations. 

Historically, charcoal was previously used to brush teeth before the invention of toothpaste as we think of it today. It has become more popular since 2017, but there is still only limited evidence over its usefulness and safety in dental products.

Some studies report on the abrasive nature of charcoal in toothpaste and oral products, and its usefulness in removing stains, but this could cause irreversible stripping of the outermost surface of the teeth. For a more in depth discussion about charcoal toothpastes you can visit this page.

Charcoal is made by burning natural materials such as wood, peat, or even coconut shells. The charcoal produced from this is then treated with very hot air to make it more porous.

Toothpastes containing charcoal have the ability to stain lab work, including crowns and veneers, and should be used with caution if you have these.

Chlorhexidine

Chlorhexidine, or chlorhexidine gluconate, is an active ingredient which can be added to toothpastes and mouthwashes. Chlorhexidine is antio-microbial, meaning it can kill bacteria and fungi in the mouth.

Coconut Oil

Some theories for the addition of coconut oil to toothpaste include that it is antibacterial, and so helps keep your mouth healthy by removing bacteria when you spit the toothpaste out. Some manufacturers claim that coconut oil helps to whiten the teeth, whilst others  believe it has “anti-toxin”, purifying or anti-posing properties. There is little evidence to support these theories.

However, more importantly, coconut oil is actually a natural source of glycerin, which does prevent the paste from drying out.

Covarine

An ingredient that may be added to whitening toothpastes. It creates an optical illusion of whiter teeth by adding a blue tinge

Dimethicone

Dimethicone may also be called polymethylsiloxane. It is a synthetic ingredient added to toothpaste due to its anti-foaming properties.

Fluoride

Fluoride is an anti-cavity agent added to toothpaste to prevent dental caries. It is the key active ingredient in many toothpastes. The UK Government has approved the use of fluoride in cosmetics in the form of:

  • Stannous fluoride
  • Sodium fluoride
  • Sodium monofluorophosphate.

Fluoride reduces the ability of the bacteria in the mouth to produce decay-causing acids. Fluoride also works by replacing the calcium and minerals lost in the demineralization/decalcification process. It binds with the tooth to form an even harder surface to reverse and prevent the decay process.

Glycerol/Glycerin

Glycerin and glycerol are the same ingredient. Glycerol is a humectant, added to toothpaste to prevent it drying out. It also sweetens the toothpaste, although this is not its main function.

According to EWG, glycerol/glycerin can be derived from animal or vegetable origin It is graded GRAS by the FDA.

Hydrated Silica

Hydrated silica is a form of silicon dioxide, and is Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. It is added to toothpastes primarily as an abrasive. 

Silica occurs in nature, but can also be manufactured. It is not silicone, and not its toxic namesake, crystalline silica. It’s a derivative of silicone dioxide.

What’s worrying about hydrated sicilia is that it can be contaminated by crystalline sicilia, so some manufacturers subject their hydrated silica to an x-ray process first before using it in pastes. For some people, using a material that must be x-rayed first is a little disconcerting.

Care should be taken to ensure that a toothpaste containing hydrated silica is not too abrasive, which could possibly lead to sensitivity and tooth wear.

If you are looking for a toothpaste without hydrated silica, consider Redmond Earthpaste.

Novamin

NovaMin is a bioactive glass, and it delivers Calcium and Phosphate to form Hydroxyapatite to help remineralise the tooth surface.

Parabens

Parabens are used as a preservative – to prevent growth of bacteria and mold. They therefore help the toothpaste to last for a long time and in good condition. 

Parabens are used in so many products that it is now difficult to establish how it is affecting us. Studies have linked overexposure with breast cancer, whilst another showed that they could reduce the sperm count in mice

The FDA does permit the use of parabens in cosmetic products, but says that it is constantly reviewing available data.

Paraben-free toothpaste brands

If a paste doesn’t explicitly state that it’s free from parabens, look for products that claim they are free from artificial preservatives.  Some that are paraben-free include:

  • Himalaya Herbals
  • Sarakan Toothpaste
  • Australia Tea Tree

Colgate also phased out its use of Parabens as of July 2016

PEG-12

A humectant that helps retain moisture or dissolves other ingredients.

Peroxides

Added to whitening toothpastes, these are the chemicals that will actually make a difference and change the base colour of the tooth. The maximum allowable concentration in over the counter products varies by country. Within Europe, this is 0.1%. In the US, bleaching is considered as cosmetic and so is not regulated by the FDA, with no obvious upper limit despite potential to cause damage in high doses.

Polyethylene (plastic microbeads)

Polyethylene in the form of plastic microbeads was previously added to toothpaste to improve the appearance of the toothpaste. In the US, the use of microbeads is banned in over-the-counter drugs and wash-off cosmetics, in accordance with the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.

Plastic microbeads in toothpastes can be detrimental to gum health, as well as proving harmful for the environment.

The UK is one of 15 countries to have banned plastic microbeads in this way, alongside the USA and Canada. But beware of toothpastes purchased outside of the UK, which could still have microplastics in them.

Microbeads in toothpaste
A sample of toothpaste with microbeads in it

Potassium Nitrate

Potassium nitrate is a therapeutic ingredient which is added to prevent sensitivity. It works by preventing the nerve from passing on the pain message from the tooth to the brain. It is a nerve calming agent.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is a humectant, meaning that it helps keep toothpaste moist. It can also enhance flavours in toothpaste.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

SLS is a detergent that is used as a foaming agent. It is used in products like toothpaste so that the substance lathers, enabling us to spread it easier. It can also help remove debris from the mouth due to its foaming action.

SLS’s toxicology has been called into question, but some recent studies have proven it’s not a carcinogen. In actual fact the American Cancer Society does not include SLS on any list of known, probable or anticipated human carcinogens.

Whilst SLS cannot cause ulcers in the mouth, there is some limited evidence to associate it with greater pain and duration of ulcers if this is something you do suffer from.

I have written more about SLS in our post on the best SLS-Free toothpaste.

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate is used as a preservative in toothpastes.

The FDA recognizes Sodium Benzoate as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe), when used up to a maximum dose of 0.1%. Overuse of benzoates have been linked to reactions of the skin and mucosa.

Sodium Benzoate does not occur naturally, but is made from a chemical reaction of benzoic acid.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium Bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, is added to toothpastes as an abrasive ingredient, to aid in the removal of plaque and superficial stains. It is a gentle stain remover which will do little damage to the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth.

There is some evidence that the addition of sodium  bicarbonate to a toothpaste increases plaque removal compared to toothpastes without, and can also reduce gum bleeding more than using a toothpaste without.

Whilst baking soda can remove stains, making teeth appear whiter, it is not a whitening product, and will not lighten the overall colour of your teeth.

Sodium bicarbonate has a low RDA (relative dentin abrasivity) in itself, and is one of the gentlest abrasives to be found in toothpaste. However, toothpastes containing sodium bicarbonate often market themselves as stain removing and may well contain other abrasives, which can cause damage over time.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide is used as a buffer in toothpaste, acting to balance the acidity.

Sodium hydroxide is also known as lye (used in soapmaking) or caustic soda, and has a number of uses in cleaning and making industrial products. But only minimum concentrations of it are used within toothpaste and food items, at levels which are safe, and in accordance with FDA recommendations.

In toothpaste, sodium hydroxide neutralises acids to help balance the pH of the toothpaste.

Sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP)

Prevents plaque mineralising into calculus, is added to prevent calculus (or tartar) buildup. It reduces the rate and the extent of calculus formation. Because it prevents build up of calculus, which can stain, it can also be considered as anti-staining.

Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate

This is a mild cleanser not related to SLS.

Sodium Saccharin

Sodium Saccharin is an artificial sweetener, added to toothpaste to improve the taste. It can also enhance other flavours such as mint or cinnamon.

Saccharin is approved by the FDA and is a good alternative to sugar because it does not contribute to the development of cavities.  It’s commonly used because it also doesn’t contain any calories. 

Early studies, completed in the 70s, linked saccharin to bladder cancer in rats, however this has been found to be untrue in humans, and saccharin has now been removed from any approved list of carcinogens in the US.

Sodium Triphosphate

Also called Pentasodium triphosphate, this is a stain removal ingredient.

Unlike other ingredients, it does not remove stains in a physical way, by being abrasive. Sodium triphosphate removes staining from teeth in a chemical way, by removing proteins (which can be coloured) that are stuck to enamel on the teeth. It also prevents further proteins sticking to the surface. 

This is an effective stain remover, without adding to the abrasiveness of a toothpaste. Because it does not need to be directly brushed into the surface like an abrasive ingredient, it can also be effective in hard to reach areas.

Sorbitol

The primary role of sorbitol is as a humectant, preventing the loss of water from toothpaste and keeping it smooth. But sorbitol is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol that is also used as a sweetener.

Sorbitol is an ingredient that is listed as Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. As a sweetener, sorbitol does not feed the bacteria in the mouth, and so does not increase the risk of dental decay and gum disease.

In some people, and at higher doses, sorbitol can cause flatulence, bloating and can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome.

If you’re looking to avoid sorbitol and other chemicals in your toothpaste, look for a paste that uses minimal, natural ingredients. Check for pastes that are ‘unsweetened’, ‘unflavoured,’ or without preservatives.

Sorbitol-free toothpaste brands

If you’re looking to avoid sorbitol and other chemicals in your toothpaste, look for a paste that uses minimal, natural ingredients. Check for pastes that are ‘unsweetened’, ‘unflavored,’ or without preservatives, such as:

  • Kingfisher Baking Soda Toothpaste
  • Sarakan Toothpaste
  • Redmond Earthpaste

Strontium chloride

Strontium chloride is a therapeutic ingredient, use to reduce sensitivity by occluding dentinal tubules.

Titanium dioxide / CI 77891

Titanium dioxide is a thickener which is added to toothpaste to help the consistency, whilst also helping to colour the toothpaste because it is naturally white in colour.

Titanium dioxide has been approved by the UK Government for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics.

Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient, working to kill both bacteria and fungus too. It works by fighting the bacteria that cause dental decay and gum disease. 

The EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products has announced triclosan to be safe at a maximum concentration of 0.3% in toothpastes, but when used in conjunction with other cosmetic products this may not be the case. 

Triclosan has been tested in clinical trials and how effective it is at removing bacteria has been proven, however there are currently no products available containing triclosan, probably as a result of links to possible antimicrobial resistance in addition to concerns about safety.

Studies have shown that triclosan-containing toothpastes are particularly effective for patients with additional needs, and who are unable to brush well. In these cases, triclosan containing toothpastes are more effective than fluoride-containing toothpastes.

Xanthan Gum 

Xanthan gum is a binding agent, preventing the ingredients of the toothpaste from separating in the tube.

Xanthan gum is generally made from vegetable matter and deemed safe by the FDA.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is used as a sweetener.  It helps to make the flavour of toothpaste more appealing.

As a sweetener, xylitol does not feed the bacteria in the mouth, and so does not increase the risk of dental decay and gum disease. Even better, it can reduce the risk of decay!

Xylitol is recognised as safe by the FDA, “provided the amount used is not greater than that required to produce its intended effect”

Xylitol helps protect the teeth and gums as it reduces the number of bacteria in saliva that can cause tooth decay. It is reported that using up to 20 grams of xylitol per day can significantly reduce the rate of cavity formation in both adults and children. Some studies have proven that xylitol is effective in preventing caries on the root surface of the tooth. Because of its effectiveness, xylitol is also added to sugar free chewing gums to help protect the teeth. 

Xylitol can be sourced naturally as it is naturally occuring in some plants, fruits and vegetables.

It’s not suitable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding  as not enough is known about its side-effects. Potential side effects following overexposure include bloating and diarrhea. Xylitol is toxic for dogs so be careful which paste you are brushing your pet’s teeth with.

Xylitol is everywhere because evidence shows it is good to help prevent tooth decay. Whilst it is included with many toothpastes, there are some that don’t contain it, so check the ingredients list if it’s something that you want to avoid.

Zinc Citrate

Zinc Citrate acts as a pH buffer. It is also an ingredient that can prevent the build up of tartar (calculus) by preventing plaque on the teeth from hardening into calculus.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Hons)

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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14 thoughts on “Toothpaste Ingredients: A – Z”

  1. Thank you for such detailed article. I was wondering what are your thoughts about Herbodent toothpaste. I used it once and I liked the result and plan to continue using it.

    Reply
    • I have not actually tried this paste to make a specific comment. Appears to be all ‘natural’ which might be good for some, but does lack fluoride which dental professionals recommend.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately, it seems it’s not “all natural” as it claims. If this website provides truth, it contains Paraben and a few non-natural things: naturaltoothpastebrands.com/herbodent-toothpaste-ayurvedic-formula/

        So, I got confused, should I buy it again or no. First I tried Herbodent (my dentist recommended me (I have periodontitis)) and I liked it very much. Then I tried Parodontax [with fluoride] (saw lots of good reviews about it), but after using it, my gums became itchy and don’t like it, so I’m thinking to go back to Herbodent, but after reading that review from that link, I’m hesitating to do it or no).

        Reply
  2. I finally found a toothpaste that doesn’t have the additives I’m most concerned about. It’s called Burt’s Bees and I don’t know if it’s available in the UK but you might be able to get it online. They have several varieties, with and without fluoride. I had expected Tom’s of Maine to be the most natural but it includes chemicals I’d prefer to avoid. Ingredients in the tube of Burt’s Bees that I bought are listed as, in order, glycerin, water, hydrated silica, sodium cocoyl glutamate, cocamidopropyl betaine, flavor, xantham gum, carrageenan, stevia rebaudiana extract, titanium dioxide. Still quite a lot of stuff for those who’d prefer all natural. Hope this is helpful to all you folks out there.

    Reply
  3. An interesting, in-depth article – thank you.

    Oddly, I recently bought some Oral B 1-2-3 toothpaste which has blue specks in it – I normally avoid any unnecessary colouring but hadn’t spotted the extra CI ingredient on this occasion. I raised this with P&G as they say they no longer use microbeads, and they just replied to confirm that is the case. I therefore responded to ask what the blue specks are actually made from (as it’s not obvious from the ingredients) and have had no reply. Any thoughts?

    Ingredients listed as follows:
    Aqua, Hydrated Silica, Sorbitol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cellulose Gum, Aroma, Sodium Saccharin, Sodium Fluoride, Carbomer, CI 77891, Trisodium Phosphate, Limonene, Polysorbate 80, CI 74160

    Reply
    • Hi Chas,

      I am far from any expert, but I think the blue specs might be linked to the ingredient CI 74160 as it is a blue pigment found in cosmetics.

      It could be this pigment has been used to colour the hydrated silica which is one of the other ingredients included and helps with removing stains from the teeth etc.

      Reply
      • Hi Jon, thank you for your reply… spot on! Coincidentally I’ve just had a reply from P&G and they confirm that it is indeed silica, which as far as I’m aware is nothing to be concerned about, at least from an environmental perspective, so that is good to know.

        Thanks again.

        Reply
  4. My doctor suggested I avoid toothpaste with sodium laurel sulfate, sorbitol and xylitol because of my trouble with dry mouth and irritable bowel syndrome. I was surprised to find how many toothpastes had SLS and how few had complete labeling of inactive ingredients. I appreciate your efforts to inform us about these ingredients. It looks like I’d be better off making up my own paste. Any thoughts? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Pamela,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I would ask your dentist what they recommend in your scenario, presumably they did not give a recommendation?

      From checking a few of the more natural options, including Earthpaste, they often contain Xylitol, which is one of the ingredients you have been advised to avoid. There are options which exclude almost all the ingredients you mention, but finding one that excludes them all is a little more tricky.

      Whilst making your own paste is an option it is not always the best option or the most practical, particularly as fluoride is an ingredient often recommended to help keep teeth healthy, but you have not been advised to avoid that.

      Reply
      • Thank you! Of course I should ask my dentist. Why didn’t I think of that? I appreciate your consideration of my difficulty. Making my own toothpaste isn’t really practical. I did let my doctor know that I couldn’t find any toothpaste without the ingredients she told me to avoid. She replied that SLS was the most important problem and I see there are several options in that category. I will check them out. Thanks again for your excellent work.

        Reply
  5. Hi Jon

    I get a strong sense from your presentation style that you take a lot of pride in being detailed and concise. I have recently finished reading a lot of your articles and I have to say I’m thoroughly impressed with the depth of knowledge and clarity of all this invaluable and free information! I have learnt a lot and consequently my dental hygiene has improved immensely. I know this is horribly pedantic but you have accidentally spelled silica incorrectly a couple of times.

    Reply
    • Hi Scott.

      Thank you for the kind words. I am pleased you have been able to take benefit from it and see your own oral health improve, that is the exact sort of story I want to hear. 😀

      No problem with pointing out spelling errors. Of course not intentional, but I can confirm I do believe have now corrected these.

      Reply
  6. I am looking for a silica-free toothpaste. I have exposed roots at the gum line and use an electric toothbrush. How abrasive is hydrated silica? Please advise.
    Thank you for your assistance.

    Sincerely,
    Sandra

    Reply
    • Hi Sandra.

      Thanks for the question.

      Hydrated Silica is an abrasive agent found within toothpaste.

      As I understand it is considered safe by leading organisations and is relatively low on the scale of abrasivity.

      However, I am not a dentist or scientist to be able to give you the full information on this particular ingredient.

      Reply
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