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What do the other ingredients in toothpaste do?

‘Active’ ingredients

  • Fluoride - Read more about what fluoride does for your teeth here.
  • Anti-caries agents: Help control tooth decay. Includes Calcium, phosphorus, metals (e.g., zinc, aluminium, iron, tin, molybdenum)
  • Anti-plaque agents: Help control plaque and, ultimately, gum disease (known as gingivitis). Includes Triclosan, chlorhexidine, enzymes, amine alcohols, metal salts (zinc, tin), cetrylpyridinium chloride (CPC), calcium carbonate
  • Teeth whitening agents. Includes Sodium tripolyphosphate, peroxide, enzymes (e.g., citroxain, bromaine complex), sodium hexametaphosphate
  • Anti-sensitivity: Help control ‘sensitive teeth’. Includes: Potassium nitrate, potassium citrate, potassium chloride, strontium chloride, stannous fluoride, arginine + calcium carbonate + sodium monofluorophosphate, calcium sodium phosphosilicate (CSPS). Want to learn more about Sensitive Teeth? Click here
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Other Ingredients

If you look at the ingredients on a tube of toothpaste, there’s a lot more in there than just the ‘active’ ingredients; below are examples of some of the ‘inactive’ ingredients

  • All toothpastes contain abrasives to clean the teeth. These include siica, sodium bicarbonate, pumice alumina, polythene. Most toothpastes are harmless and unlikely to cause damage to teeth. But if heavy pressure is used when cleaning your teeth can cause damage. If you think you might be using too much pressure ask your dentist. Read more about what causes mechanical tooth wear here.
  • Surfactants: Help the toothpaste foam and get to all parts of the teeth. These include Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium stearyl lactate, amine fluoride
  • Thickeners: Help keep the toothpaste together. These include Carbopols, xanthan gum, sodium alginate, carrageenan, guar gum, silica
  • Anti-calculus: Help control plaque that has turned into crystals. These include Pyrophosphates, methyl vinyl ether + maleic anhydride
  • Humectants: Help keep the toothpaste moist with a smooth texture. These include Glycerol, sorbitol, water, xylitol, PEG 8
  • Preservatives: Help keep the toothpaste fresh. These include: Polyaminopropyl biguanide, formaldehyde, methylparabens, alcohols, benzoic acid, phenolics
  • Flavours - Mint, vanilla, wintergreen, fennel, clove oil, aniseed
  • Sweeteners - Saccharine, aspartame, sorbitol
  • Colours - Chlorophyll, titanium dioxide

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Davies R, Scully C, Preston AJ. Dentifrices – an update. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal 2010;15:e976–e982.
Newby CS, Rowland JL, Lynch RJM, Bradshaw DJ, Whitworth D, Bosma ML. Benefits of a silica-based fluoride toothpaste containing o-cymen-5-ol, zinc chloride and sodium fluoride. Int Dent J 2011;61(Suppl 3):74–80