You probably never thought about whether or not toothpaste ingredients included something like sugar. After all, it’s supposed to be good for your teeth, right?! Why would someone put sugar in toothpaste? What is it that makes toothpaste sweet anyway if there isn’t sugar in there?
Fortunately, you don’t have to panic. While there are sweeteners in most toothpaste, they aren’t the same type of sugar that you stir into a batch of cookie dough or that you’ll find in candy. Toothpaste is meant to prevent tooth decay and fight gum disease not give you cavities! There are actually certain types of sugars that can help you have cleaner, healthier teeth by repelling dental plaque!
Surprise! Xylitol—which prevents plaque from sticking to teeth—is one special type of sugar that you’ll find in a variety of toothpaste ingredients. But it’s not the same type of sugar you see that causes cavities. In fact, xylitol isn’t even in a lot of toothpastes; just some of them.
Technically speaking, you could say there’s sugar in toothpaste if you’re talking about xylitol. But there isn’t any table sugar in them. How are they different? Xylitol is what we call a 5-carbon sugar. Without getting too scientific on you, the molecular makeup of the xylitol sugar molecule doesn’t match up with the plaque bacteria in your mouth. As a result, it prevents plaque from sticking together or forming buildup on your teeth. That’s why chewing gum with xylitol in it can actually be good for your teeth if you’re going about your day and not brushing between meals.
On the flip side, table sugar does cause cavities. And if you were to scrub it all over your teeth with a toothbrush twice a day, who knows how bad your smile would look! Swishing with it as you rinse your mouth would almost make it even worse.
So what is it that makes toothpaste sweet if not every brand uses a “safe” sweetener like xylitol?
Even though you could probably brush your teeth with something that isn’t sweet, you probably wouldn’t want to. Even our grandparents and great-grandparents who brushed with baking soda had to build up a tolerance to it.
If you’ve never given much thought to what’s actually in your toothpaste, there are several important components. Each one works with the others to make sure your teeth are healthy and your breath is fresh. Even though you don’t technically have to use toothpaste, it’s extremely helpful with the right ingredients for preventing tooth decay, sensitivity, and gingivitis.
Here’s what you can usually find in the list of ingredients:
This is the most important toothpaste ingredient, hands down. Fluoride helps remineralize weak tooth enamel so that the tooth decay process is reversed before a physical cavity actually forms. Common types of fluoride used as toothpaste ingredients are:
If you're looking for fluoride-free toothpastes, hydroxyapatite works similarly to fluoride by strengthening the minerals inside of your tooth enamel to make your smile more resistant to bacteria.
Even though you’ve heard dental professionals lecture about the dangers of brushing your teeth with abrasives like charcoal, a certain amount of uber-mild abrasion is still safe and effective for plaque and stain removal. Common examples include silica, calcium pyrophosphate, calcium carbonate and aluminum oxide.
As mentioned above, artificial sweeteners like xylitol or saccharin can make your toothpaste a lot tastier. But additional natural ingredients like essential oils can also help with flavor, fresh breath, and antimicrobial properties. Peppermint and cinnamon are a couple of common examples. A few drops of those go a really long way!
A humectant helps hold the ingredients of your toothpaste together so that it doesn’t separate out while it’s sitting on a store shelf. Basically, it helps ensure consistency and texture while preventing your toothpaste from drying out. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to squeeze it out of the tube. Common humectants in toothpaste include glycerin and sorbitol.
Hands down, the most common detergent found in toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulfate or “SLS.” It’s often listed as an active ingredient because some people are allergic to it and their mouths will start peeling. The purpose of using a detergent or foaming agents in the first place is to help clean your teeth as you’re physically rubbing away at them with a toothbrush.
Related: Best SLS Free Toothpaste
Number one is sodium lauryl sulfate. SLS is one of those things that you usually find out pretty quickly if you’re allergic to it or not. If your mouth skin is peeling or your gums are red after you use an SLS toothpaste, put it aside and wait to see if things improve. If they do, you probably have an SLS allergy.
Cinnamon is another common allergen, but some people grow out of it. If your mouth burns or stings whenever you eat cinnamon or have cinnamon flavors, then avoid those toothpastes.
Do you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance? Well, there’s gluten in some toothpastes, too. But don’t assume that they all have it; Crest toothpaste used to have gluten in it, but they have since discontinued that ingredient from their product line.
And finally, fluoride. While a fluoride allergy is extremely rare, it is something to take note of when using a fluoride toothpaste.
Not all toothpastes are created equally. Some are better for gum recession and tooth sensitivity, while others work better for whitening or gingivitis. If you use the wrong one, it might actually make your teeth or gums hurt! Always ask your dentist or dental hygienist about which type of toothpaste is best for you and your oral health, especially if you have concerns over the ingredients.
What makes toothpaste sweet? Natural or artificial sweeteners like xylitol or saccharin in most cases. Toothpaste ingredients are important to read over, especially if you know you have allergies or specific dental problems you’re dealing with.
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