toothpaste ingredients

What's Inside Your Toothpaste? Exploring Major Toothpaste Ingredients

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

We use toothpaste every day for our overall oral hygiene, but we usually do not think much about its composition. There are many types of toothpaste to choose from, so understanding toothpaste ingredients becomes crucial for informed decision-making. This guide, backed by dental research, will help you learn about toothpaste ingredients, explaining individual functions to help you select the suitable option for your oral hygiene needs.

Toothpaste Through the Ages

Toothpaste, toothbrushes, and floss became oral hygiene staples in the 1950s. However, historical documentation and archaeological findings show that the quest for oral cleanliness spans over 5,000 years. 

The history of toothpaste extends to 500 BC, when the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians started using it. The early version of toothpaste was very different from what we have today. It included natural abrasives made from burned eggshells and ox hooves' ashes mixed with pumice.

The 1800s marked a significant shift in toothpaste formulation and became more like what we have today. The toothpaste had soap in early versions and had chalk around the 1850s. In 1873, Colgate pioneered toothpaste mass production and sold it in jars. The post-1945 introduced sodium lauryl sulfate to make toothpaste smooth and creamy, reflecting the industry’s ongoing innovation and commitment to consumer satisfaction.

Toothpaste Ingredients

Effective toothpaste combines ingredients that are essential to providing dental benefits. Fluoride is one of them and has been proven for its cavity-prevention properties. Fluoride also helps strengthen tooth enamel, underscoring the ingredient’s importance in oral care maintenance. 

Although toothpaste formulas vary by brand, the core ingredients remain consistent. This is especially true for toothpastes intended for cavity prevention. The major active ingredients in toothpaste include:

  • Fluoride

  • Abrasives

  • Humectants

  • Flavouring agents

  • Preservatives

  • Detergents

  • Thickening agents

  • Whitening agents

  • Anti-halitosis agents

  • Desensitising agents

  • Triclosan


The American Dental Association (ADA) recognises fluoride as a vital ingredient for fighting cavities. They call it "nature's cavity fighter." It strengthens tooth enamel and prevents the formation of caries by remineralizing the enamel. It also shields them from acidic foods and drinks.

Some toothpastes, like Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection, have the right amount of fluoride. Fluoridated toothpaste is made by adding active ingredients such as sodium fluoride, sodium monofluorophosphate, stannous fluoride, and other fluoride compounds.


Even if they do not directly stop cavities or gum issues, abrasives are crucial for cleaning your teeth. They help get rid of food bits and stains on the surface of your teeth. Ancient people used crushed eggshells or oyster shells to clean their teeth. Nowadays, we use toothpaste with gentler substances. These include calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, calcium phosphate, and dehydrated silica gels.

Remember, when brushing with toothpaste that has abrasives, be gentle, so you do not hurt your enamel or gums. Abrasives are tiny particles that help clean your teeth without scratching them and make them shine naturally.


Maintaining a smooth texture and preventing toothpaste from drying out is crucial. Humectants play an important role in this. One such humectant is sorbitol, which not only enhances the flavour of the toothpaste but also acts to retain moisture.

Other common humectants used in toothpaste include glycol, glycerol, and propylene glycol. These substances ensure that each time you squeeze toothpaste from the tube, it maintains a consistent and smooth texture. Humectants keep the toothpaste from drying out and getting hard, so it stays smooth and creamy.

Flavouring agents

To make toothpaste taste better and feel nicer when you use it, they add flavours. This helps mask the natural blandness or bitterness of some ingredients. Sweetening agents like saccharin or sorbitol are commonly used for this purpose. However, it's important to note that toothpaste is sugar-free, so it won't contribute to tooth decay.

Toothpaste often includes a mixture of essential oils, like spearmint and peppermint. The oils are insoluble in water and add flavour. To make toothpaste taste better, they use natural sweeteners like sodium saccharin, xylitol, and stevia.


Preservatives are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. Some commonly used preservatives in toothpaste are parabens and benzoates. These ingredients help keep toothpaste fresh and effective for a longer period of time. They ensure that your toothpaste remains safe and in good condition until you finish using it.


The frothy experience you get while brushing your teeth is because of the presence of surfactants in the toothpaste. Detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), help with this. They serve as a foaming agent and spread the toothpaste around your mouth.

However, SLS is thought to trigger canker sores in those who are sensitive to this component. As a result, there is also ‘SLS-free’ toothpaste for people who are sensitive to detergents.

Thickening agents

The gel-like consistency of toothpaste is due to the thickening agents present in them, like carrageenan and xanthan gum. These ingredients help to make your toothpaste stay on your toothbrush and do not make it too watery. The thickening agent chosen can affect how the toothpaste feels in your mouth.

Whitening agents

Many people want a whiter smile. That's why toothpaste with special tooth-whitening properties has been developed. Whitening toothpaste usually contains ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, or activated charcoal.

These substances help make your smile brighter. They do this by removing surface stains and discolouration from your teeth. But if you want better whitening results, consult a dental professional. They can provide appropriate whitening options.

Anti-halitosis agents

Halitosis, commonly known as bad breath, originates mainly from the oral cavity. The zinc ions in the toothpaste control bad breath and affect the oral odour. Toothpaste and mouthwashes contain zinc and are usually in the form of zinc chloride or zinc citrate.

The antibacterial properties of zinc help inhibit the growth of bacteria in the oral cavity. Additionally, zinc also binds with the sulfur compounds, which are often responsible for bad breath, and neutralises them.

Desensitising agents

Toothpaste for sensitive teeth often contains special ingredients like strontium chloride and potassium nitrate. These ingredients, recognised by the American Dental Association, work by blocking pain signals to the nerves in your teeth. Additionally, toothpaste desensitising agents can keep gums healthy and prevent gum diseases.

It's important to note that immediate results are not expected. These ingredients typically take 4-6 weeks of consistent use to effectively reduce tooth sensitivity.


Triclosan was an antimicrobial agent. It is used to be found in some toothpaste formulations due to the added benefits of fighting bacteria and preventing gingivitis. However, due to safety concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited its use in consumer antiseptic wash products, including some toothpaste. As a result, several toothpaste brands have changed their formulations by removing triclosan.

If you are concerned about triclosan, check your toothpaste's ingredients or ask your dental professional for alternatives.

Choosing the Right Toothpaste

Here are  tips to keep in mind:

  • Check for fluoride: Ensure your toothpaste has fluoride to prevent cavities and strengthen your teeth.

  • Consider your dental needs: Choose a toothpaste that suits your needs. Whether it's for preventing cavities, soothing sensitivity, or achieving a brighter smile.

  • Check for ADA Seal: If your toothpaste has an ADA Seal, it indicates that the product meets safety and efficiency standards.

  • Avoid excessive abrasives: Some toothpaste contains excessive abrasives, which can cause enamel erosion.

  • Look for tartar control: Pick toothpaste with ingredients such as sodium pyrophosphate to prevent hard plaque build-up. It helps with tartar control if you're worried about tartar. 

  • Avoid harsh ingredients: If you have sensitivities or allergies, it's important to check the ingredients before purchasing toothpaste.

  • Consult a dental professional: To get personalised recommendations based on your oral health needs, it's best to consult with your dental professional, especially if you face any dental problems.

Toothpaste has come a long way, from rudimentary mixtures to advanced and sophisticated formulations to clean the teeth. Modern toothpastes are essential tools in preventing cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Regular brushing with the right toothpaste, flossing, and dental check-ups is vital for optimal oral health. So, the next time you grab your toothpaste, take a moment to go through the components of the toothpaste that can work together to keep a healthy smile. Also, always consult a dental professional for personalised recommendations based on your oral health needs.