What's Really in Toothpaste? Is There Sugar In Toothpaste?

What's Really in Toothpaste? Is There Sugar In Toothpaste?

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Oct 17, 2023
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
What's Really in Toothpaste? Is There Sugar In Toothpaste?

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!

Is There Sugar In Toothpaste?

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? 

Does Sugar Make Toothpaste Sweet?

Sugar is sweet, but it’s not the only thing out there that can make toothpaste sweet. Even if you have a brand of toothpaste that doesn’t have xylitol in it, there are other tooth-safe artificial sweeteners that make your toothpaste taste good. Such as sodium saccharin, which is hundreds of times sweeter than regular table sugar (nope, it’s not salty!) Saccharin is in big-name brands like Crest and Colgate. And yes, they’re approved by the American Dental Association!

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. 

5 Common Toothpaste Ingredients 

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:

1. Fluoride or Hydroxyapatite

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:

  • Stannous fluoride
  • Sodium fluoride
  • Sodium Monofluorophosphate 
  • Amine Fluoride

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. 

2. Abrasives

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. 

To remove surface stains, toothpastes contains various types of abrasives, such as dehydrated silica gels, hydrated aluminum oxides, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), magnesium carbonate, phosphate salts, and silicates, that not only remove plaque effectively but also contribute to a whiter smile. Despite their rough texture, these abrasives are gentle enough to protect your tooth enamel from damage. When used as directed, you’ll have less stain buildup to keep your smile whiter, longer.

3. Sweeteners and Flavors

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!

4. Humectants

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.

5. Toothpaste Detergents

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

Toothpaste Ingredients That Might Cause An Allergic Reaction

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

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

2. Cinnamon

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. 

3. Gluten

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. 

4. Fluoride

And finally, fluoride. While a fluoride allergy is extremely rare, it is something to take note of when using a fluoride toothpaste. 

Sensitive Teeth Toothpaste Ingredients

Toothpastes that are specifically designed for sensitive teeth contain desensitizing ingredients. Among them, strontium chloride and potassium nitrate are recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA) as effective in reducing discomfort caused by sensitivity to hot or cold foods. These ingredients work by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the nerves in your teeth. However, it may take 4-6 weeks of consistent use for these ingredients to desensitize your teeth, and their effect is not immediate. It is advisable to stop using toothpaste that contains hydrogen peroxide, which is commonly found in whitening toothpastes.

Talk With Your Dentist

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's In Toothpaste

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.

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onOctober 18, 2023Here is our process

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