What is Toothpaste

What is in Toothpaste?

- Abrasives
- Detergent (1-2%)
- Binding agents (1%)
- Humectants (10-30%)
- Flavouring, sweetening and colouring agents (1-5%)
- Preservatives (0.05-0.50%)
- Fluoride and other therapeutic agents
- Water

Toothpaste ingredients are usually shown on packs w/w - that is weight for weight, or grams per 100 grams. Toothpastes are the most widely used oral health care product and there is considerable choice available to the consumer. Toothpaste types range from general decay, plaque and tartar control types to specific formulations for sensitive teeth, for smokers, special children's formulations and the tooth whitening pastes. Toothpaste ingredients are usually shown on packs as grams per 100 grams. Under new European cosmetics legislation, toothpastes are required to list all ingredients. In addition to water, toothpaste will normallycontain the following basic ingredients:


Abrasives are the cleaning and polishing ingredient in a toothpaste and account for about a third of the toothpaste by weight. Most abrasives are chalk or silica based. Examples are dicalcium phosphate, sodium metaphosphate, calcium carbonate, silica, zirconium silicate or calcium pyrophosphate. Abrasives differ in strength. An international standard defines a test paste against which toothpaste abrasivity can be assessed, but there is no system for ensuring that all toothpastes sold in the Republic of Ireland are at or below this abrasivity level. The unit of measurement is known as the Relative Dentine Abrasivity (RDA) or the Relative Enamel Abrasivity (REA).

Detergent (1-2%)

Detergents foam and loosen plaque and other debris from the tooth surface. Principal examples are sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium N-lauroyl sarcosinate.

Binding agents (1%)

These agents prevent separation of solid and liquid ingredients during storage. They are usually derived from cellulose, sodium carboxy-methyl cellulose being the most commonly used. Carrageenans (seaweed derived), xantham gums and alginates are also used.

Humectants (10-30%)

Humectants act to retain moisture and prevent the toothpaste from hardening on exposure to air. Glycerol, sorbitol and propylene glycol are commonly used. Glycerol and sorbitol also sweeten the toothpaste, though this is not their main function.

Flavouring, sweetening and colouring agents (1-5%)

Peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen and menthol are among the many different flavourings used. While rare, mucosal irritations from toothpaste (i.e., ulceration, gingivitis, angular cheilitis, perioral dermatitis) are usually linked to flavourings or preservatives they contain.

Preservatives (0.05-0.5%)

Alcohols, benzoates, formaldehyde and dichlorinated phenols are added to prevent bacterial growth on the organic binders and humectants.

Fluoride and other therapeutic agents

The majority of toothpastes combine the caries protection of fluoride with other therapeutic agents to control plaque, tartar and gum disease. The inclusion of antibacterial agents can help individuals improve their plaque control. Many toothpastes include triclosan, which has been shown to offer a clinically useful improvement in gum health. Other pastes specifically target "tartar" (hardened plaque) and use phyrosphosphate to inhibit the mineralisation of dental plaque and hence the buildup of tartar (calculus).

Toothpastes with desensitising agents are also available for sensitive teeth.