Toothpaste ingredients have changed a lot over time. People who cleaned their teeth in the 19th century probably used one of the various tooth powders which contained ground-up cuttlefish bone, coral, porcelain or burnt eggshells. They might also have been tinted purple using cochineal, which is made from tropical insect bodies.
Today’s toothpaste brands, whether white, colored, or striped, contain at least ten ingredients. Some play a part in cleaning or protecting the teeth; some make the paste tastier, some bind the paste together, others help it to flow out of the tube.
The main ingredient in the white part of toothpaste is a powder of finely ground chalk (calcium carbonate), or possibly the powder from another mineral such as aluminum oxide, which is also used to make cement. These powders are slightly abrasive and help to remove the dulling film which is deposited by food and drink and contains decay-causing plaque.
A white powder called titanium dioxide is sometimes added to toothpaste to give it a whiter color. Clear gel toothpastes get their abrasive quality from transparent compounds of silica, often with a coloring added.
Many people choose special types of toothpaste with very specific ingredients to target certain problems.
One dental problem is plaque and bacteria accumulation. Plaque is a deposit of food debris and bacteria that attaches to the teeth. Sugars are converted into acids and will attack the enamel, creating cavities. Gum tissues are irritated causing gingivitis and premature tooth loss.
The solution is to use a toothpaste that contains a sufficiently high concentration of chlorhexidine, a powerful anti-bacterial. It cleanses the mouth, helps fight bacteria and prevents the onset of gingivitis. The action is progressive and takes several hours.
Another problem is weakened tooth enamel. Over time, the enamel wears away and crumbles because there is less saliva in the mouth. Saliva nourishes the teeth and provides calcium. The gums recede causing tooth loss, and become stained and gradually lose their shine.
The solution is to use a toothpaste containing calcium peroxide which strengthens tooth enamel and eliminates bacteria that cause plaque. This ingredient also has a bleaching effect and reduces surface staining. For greater efficiency, it is advisable to keep the toothpaste in your mouth a moment before rinsing.