Active Ingredients In Toothpaste

by | Sep 12, 2020 | Dental Hygiene

What are the active ingredients in toothpaste?

Have you ever read the toothpaste label and wondered what do ingredients inside your toothpaste mean and how do they affect your oral health? In this article, we will explore the meaning of the ingredients inside your toothpaste and more. Because knowing what is inside your toothpaste will help you make more informed decisions and will allow you to stay in control of your oral health. By picking the right toothpaste, you have a higher chance of addressing your oral needs. Whether you need to decrease tooth sensitivity or inflammation, perform tooth whitening, control plaque or simply use less abrasive chemicals on your teeth, there will be a toothpaste available to suit your needs. 

Toothpaste ingredients are categorized into active and non-active. Active ingredients in toothpaste are the ones that perform a therapeutic action and can help treat disease. Whereas, non-active are the ones that help stabilize or improve the appearance or taste of the toothpaste.

Active ingredients in toothpaste:


One of the main active ingredients in toothpaste is fluoride. Fluoride helps to protect teeth from decay. It acts as a remineralizing agent which makes the teeth structure stronger. When your natural tooth structure loses calcium phosphate, fluoride comes in place of calcium phosphate and rebuilds the tooth structure. Fluoride also inhibits the growth of bacteria and plaque formation. Please click here to read more about fluoride

Different forms of fluoride exist in toothpastes. We will talk about the following 4 forms of fluoride: sodium fluoride, sodiummonofluorophosphate (MFP), stannous fluoride and organic fluoride.

The most commonly used fluoride form in toothpaste, mouth rinses, and professional products is sodium fluoride. Sodium fluoride dissolves easily in solution making it readily available for remineralization. That is why it is the fluoride of choice in the majority of dental products. 

Sodiummonofluorophosphate (MFP) is another form of fluoride which is activated only under acidic conditions. So, when bacteria metabolize carbohydrates stuck on your teeth, they produce acids as a byproduct. These acids can break down the structure of your teeth if an agent is not used to remineralize your teeth. In conclusion, MFP can prevent demineralization by remineralizing your teeth on the spot.

Stannous fluoride is another form of fluoride used in toothpaste. In addition to remineralizing your teeth, stannous fluoride can also address tooth hypersensitivity. So, if you suffer from gum recession which may lead to tooth hypersensitivity, stannous fluoride may help.

Another form of fluoride is an Organic Fluoride. The structure of Organic Fluorides incorporates an organic and an inorganic component which it believed to enhance the antibacterial activity. 

Abrasive Agents

Abrasive agents are often used in teeth whitening toothpaste. They are effective at removing stains on the surface of the teeth. For example, they can help remove tar or coffee stains. Unfortunately, sometimes the abrasive agents can be too strong leading to tooth surface roughness which in turn will attract more stains in the future. That is why it is important to be wary of abrasive toothpastes and not to use too much of them. In addition to removing stains, they are also good at disrupting the bacterial growth on your teeth. Another thing to note is that abrasive agents bind to fluoride remineralizing agents and prevent fluoride uptake.

Examples of abrasive agents:

Calcium-based abrasives: 

  • Calcium pyrophosphate
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Dicalcium phosphate
  • Dicalcium phosphate dihydrate
  • Tricalcium phosphate

Silica-based abrasives: 

  • Silica
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Hydrated silica

Desensitising agents

A lot of people suffer from dental hypersensitivity caused by recession, touch, heat or cold. Desensitizing agents make your teeth less sensitive to external stimuli which in turn results in less pain. Some desensitizing agents work by decreasing sensitivity threshold while others work by preventing the transmission of pain. Moreover, desensitizing agents need to be constantly reapplied in order to be effective that is why regular toothbrushing with desensitizing toothpaste is recommended. Desensitizing toothpaste can also be applied to your teeth overnight to help relieve sensitivity.

Examples of desensitizing agents:

  • Arginine
  • Novamin
  • Potassium citrate
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Stannous fluoride
  • Potassium chloride

Whitening agents

Whitening toothpastes often contain low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide that bleach your teeth. Hydrogen peroxide concentration in whitening toothpastes is usually around 3.6% whereas in professional whitening products, hydrogen peroxide concentration is as high as 37.5%. Therefore, professional whitening results (up to 8 shades lighter) can never be achieved with whitening toothpastes (up to 1 shade lighter). That is why, it is best to use whitening toothpastes with caution and to always consult with your dentist as they can be quite abrasive to your teeth. To read more about teeth whitening please click here

Examples of whitening agents:

  • Covarine blue
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Carbamide peroxide
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Charcoal
  • Papain
  • Pentasodium triphosphate 
  • Titanium dioxide

Antibacterial agents

Antibacterial agents prevent the growth of bacteria on your teeth. Therefore, zinc-based active ingredients in toothpaste are often used to interfere with the bacterial growth. As a result, bacteria are not able to form a slimy layer on the tooth surface known as plaque. Dental plaque can be quite destructive to the teeth as it produces acids and toxins. These acids and toxins can eat away at enamel causing decay or can irrigate your gums causing gum disease. But, if plaque is not brushed off, it calcifies and gets turned to calculus. Calculus looks like a crusty yellow deposit on your teeth that cannot be brushed off and needs to be professionally removed at the dental office. 

Examples of antibacterial agents:

  • Sodium gluconate
  • Totarol
  • Zinc lactate
  • Zinc oxide
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Zinc citrate
  • Zinc citrate trihydrate

Calculus control

As mentioned above, once calculus forms, it cannot be removed with a regular toothbrush. Thus, calculus can only be removed with professional dental instruments at the dental office. However, there are some active ingredients in toothpaste that slow down calculus formation. They work by inhibiting crystal formation and the calcification of plaque.

Examples of calculus control agents:

  • Potassium pyrophosphate
  • Sodium hexametaphosphate
  • Disodium pyrophosphate
  • Sodium polyphosphate
  • Tetrasodium pyrophosphate

Mouth pH control

Low pH can cause your teeth to lose minerals resulting in weakened tooth structure which can lead to tooth decay. The pH is maintained in the normal range of 6.7-7.3 by the buffering capacity of your saliva. However, sometimes the buffering capacity of your saliva can get overwhelmed leading to a drop in pH. Some of the foods that contribute significantly to a drop in pH include sugar-containing foods, soft drinks, and juices. I know it is a bugger… everything that tastes delicious is probably bad for your overall health and your teeth. Hence, toothpastes have bases that are able to neutralize the acidic environment of your mouth. Rinsing your mouth and drinking plenty of water in between meals can also help to maintain a neutral pH of your mouth.

Examples of pH control agents:

  • Magnesium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Aluminium hydroxide
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium hydroxide

Herbal active ingredients in toothpaste

For those of you who want to stay away from synthetic chemicals, here is a list of natural active ingredients in toothpaste. If you would like to achieve antibacterial effect from your toothpaste then the ingredients you should look for are aloe vera, coconut oil, thyme, eucalyptus oil, propolis, tea tree oil, and celery. If you would like to reduce bad breath in addition to  getting rid of bacteria then the ingredients you should look for are cardamom, magnolia bark, coriander and dill. In case your goal is to reduce inflammation in your mouth then the ingredients to look for are castor oil, myrrh, rosehip oil, and calendula officinalis. Lastly, if you are experiencing pain the menthol or clove may be able to give you temporary relief. 

Examples of herbal active ingredients in toothpaste:

  • Aloe vera
  • Coconut oil
  • Thyme
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Propolis
  • Tea Tree oil
  • Celery
  • Cardamom
  • Magnolia bark
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Castor oil: anti-inflammatory
  • Myrrh: relieve mouth sores and gum inflammation 
  • Rosehip oil: anti-inflammatory
  • Calendula Officinalis
  • Menthol/Mint oil
  • Clove

Chlorhexidine gluconate

Chlorhexidine gluconate is one of the most powerful antimicrobial agents. It significantly reduces dental plaque formation. It is also often used to treat gum disease and mouth ulcers. Although not very commonly used in toothpastes, chlorhexidine is commonly used as a mouthrinse. You should not use chlorhexidine mouthrinse for more than 14 days as it can stain teeth. 

Non-active ingredients in toothpaste

Unlike active ingredients in toothpaste that have a therapeutic effect, non-active ingredients help to enhance the appearance, taste and stability of the toothpaste. For example, surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate cause your toothpaste to foam up. Moreover, humectants prevent your toothpaste from becoming dry. Furthermore, detergents help to loosen and solubilize food particles. In addition to these products, toothpastes also contain flavoring, coloring, lubricating, and thickening agents. Lastly, toothpastes also contain preservatives. 

Examples of non-active ingredients in toothpaste:

  • Water 
  • Surfactants e.g. sodium lauryl sulphate
  • Humectants
  • Detergents
  • Flavouring agents
  • Colouring agents
  • Lubricating agents
  • Thickening agents
  • Preservatives

Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel more equipped at taking an active role in protecting your teeth from cavities and gum disease. In other words, you’re now more informed about meaning of the ingredients inside your toothpaste that you squeeze onto your toothbrush every morning and night.

Hi, I’m Yana!

I’m a fourth year dentistry student and I’m here to share with you:

  • how to take care of your and your little one’s oral health
  • good dental practices for prevention of disease
  • facts on teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry
  • answer any lingering questions
  • and MORE!

Stay Tuned!

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

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