What's In Your Toothpaste?

By: Dr. Phoebe Tsang, DMD, PhD Jul 04, 2016
childrens oral care

What types of toothpaste are there and which ones should we use?

The options of toothpaste currently available on the market today are endless: ranging from whitening, desensitizing, antiplaque, and multi beneficial. There is even toothpaste focusing on individuals who have dry mouth. White, healthy teeth have been desired in society since the archaic age, and continue to be a trend in today’s general population. The first toothbrush was invented in China in the early 1700’s, but the toothpaste tube was not invented until the late 1800’s. Until then, most used dentifrices supplied in jars that the entire family shared. Some saw this as a health hazard, and didn’t use toothpaste until the tube was actually invented.


The most common ingredients in toothpaste are abrasives (a substance used for cleaning), detergents, and fluorides. Other, less significant, components include humectants (helps reduce the loss of moisture), water, binders to avert separation, and flavours or sweeteners to give the dentifrices a likeable taste. Arguably, the most important reason why we use tooth paste is because of its Fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel and makes the teeth less susceptible to decay. Different types of fluoride include stannous fluoride, sodium monofluorophosphate, sodium fluoride, and amine fluoridd, each has a different intention, or purpose. The amount of fluoride needed to protect the teeth is very minimal so most of the toothpaste’s fluoride concentration is kept low in order it to be sold over the counter in the supermarket.

Today's Toothpaste Expectations

Expectations have climbed over the years for how many benefits can be squeezed in one small tube of dentifrice. It is not only expected to provide general mouth health and the prevention of tooth decay, but now it must fight gum disease, rid plaque, clear tartar, and have a whitening component. Producers also need to provide to certain groups of individuals, as in customers with tooth sensitivity, dry mouths, smokers, and those who want more natural products in their toothpaste. Anti-tartar products have high levels of pyrophosphates that are combined with sodium fluorides to reduce the buildup of tartar, but cannot take away the already hardened deposits on the tooth.

Whitening toothpastes is very appealing with its claims of stain removal and teeth brightening, while being used frequently. However, ingredients in the whitening toothpastes have very short life span so it is questionable how much it will give the teeth a glistening and bright look. Actual whitening of the tooth requires bleach, which is more safely done in an office procedure or dental recommended gel. Anti-sensitivity toothpaste ingredients have remained the same since it was first created, containing strontium chloride, potassium nitrate, and sodium citrate. 

Our Recommendations

It is recommended that all children should use fluoridated toothpaste. Children 3 years or older should use no larger than a pea sized amount. Children 3 or younger can use the toothpaste as well, but no larger than the size of a grain of rice. Using fluoride toothpaste can prevent tooth decay and the side effect is minimal if its use is supervised to ensure correct amount and proper brushing techniques.

There is a wide assortment of toothpastes available on the market, and with each one comes a different proposition or promise. It is up to each individual and their needs to determine which toothpaste is most suitable for them. Talk to your dentist about what is best for one’s oral care needs.

Dr. Phoebe Tsang is a Fellow of the Royal College of Dentists of Canada (F.R.C.D.) in Pediatric Dentistry and a licensed Certified Specialist in Pediatric Dentistry in BC.  The Royal College of Dentists of Canada is an organization which ensures high standards of specialization in the dental profession and recognizes properly trained dental specialists through comprehensive qualifying exams. Visit Dr. Tsang at the Children's Oral Care Centre in Abbotsford, BC. 

Outside of the office, Dr. Tsang is a clinical assistant professor of Faculty of Dentistry who is actively engaged in teaching dental students at the University of British Columbia and general practice residents at Vancouver General Hospital and British Columbia's Children's Hospital. 

Read Dr. Tsang's blog here