We all use toothpaste, well hopefully most of us, because it is an abrasive that helps clean our teeth, helps fight bad breath, and because we believe the fluoride is good for our teeth. Since we were children, toothpaste has been a part of our lives…But how much do we really know about this mysterious paste from a tube?
Ancient civilizations developed abrasive toothpastes by adding crushed bone and oyster shells. Later brushing with tooth-powder became the most popular method for oral hygiene. Some countries continue to use tooth-powder rather than toothpaste, and it was in fact made by Arm & Hammer in the U.S. up until about 20 years ago. A toothpaste primarily consisting of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda was first recommended for use with toothbrushes by 1900. By the end of World War I, pre-made toothpaste had overtaken tooth-powder in popularity in the U.S. The first tubes of toothpaste were manufactured by Dr. Washington Sheffield of New London, CT in 1880.
For the early part of the 20th century, the idea of toothpaste containing fluoride was very controversial. In 1937 the American Dental Association (ADA) criticized the ideas Roy Cross, of Kansas City, Missouri, touted when he advocated the positive oral health benefits of fluoride. Proctor & Gamble, with the intent to develop the first ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste, initiated a research project in the early 1940s which would lead to Crest. The ADA reported on August 1st, 1960, “Crest has been shown to be an effective anticavity (decay preventative) dentrifice that can be of significant value when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.”
Modern toothpastes consist of at least 50 abrasives, the sandy particles which aid in removing plaque from the tooth surface, thereby fighting tooth decay and periodontal disease. Typical abrasives found in toothpaste include aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, calcium hydrogen phosphates, various silicas, and hydroxyapatite. The most common active ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride. Fluoride reduces the risk of tooth decay by strengthening dental enamel. Fluoride is frequently supplied in toothpaste as stannous fluoride, sodium fluoride, or sodium monoflurophosphate. Other ingredients include surfactants (such as sodium laurel sulfate), antibacterial agents, flavorants, and remineralizes.
Speciality toothpastes, such as whitening toothpastes, have more recently come onto the market. The whitening toothpastes contain the same ingredient found in tooth bleaching gels, peroxide. Interestingly studies show the abrasives remove the stains, not the peroxide. Little evidence is available which favors the efficacy of whitening toothpastes. The herbal toothpaste, Tom’s of Maine, has also gained significant popularity. It is important to remember that herbal toothpastes likely will not contain fluoride, so be sure to check the ingredients.