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What’s In Your Toothpaste?

Never before have we had access to more types of oral hygiene products than right now.  Our stores are filled with many different brands claiming various advantages over the others.  Different stores have different selections.  Add to that the brands and types of toothpastes available on the internet, and the possibilities are almost endless!

When choosing a toothpaste, it helps to know what each active ingredient does and what your specific risk areas are.  This blog will help you understand some of the different ingredients and the advantages they provide.

As always, if you would like a personal recommendation, ask Dr. Ann, Dr. Lauren, Phyllis, or Nancy at your next visit.  No one understands your specific areas of risk better than they do.


It used to be impossible to find toothpaste without fluoride. Scientists and dentists have known for decades the importance of using a fluoride toothpaste.  Fluoride is a natural mineral that fights plaque buildup, cavities, and damage from acid.

In recent years, certain manufacturers began making toothpastes without fluoride in response to concerns over the risk of toxicity.  Fluoride is an essential ingredient for patients fighting cavities.  People with a high risk for developing new cavities must be using a toothpaste with fluoride.  If you have had one new cavity in the past three years, you are high risk for cavities.

If it has been many years since your last cavity, you can consider using a fluoride-free toothpaste with minimal risk.  If you’re not sure, ask your dentist.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a detergent.  This ingredient creates the foaming action of most toothpastes.  SLS does tend to make the teeth feel cleaner, although studies show that it is not necessary to have SLS to remove plaque.

The reason this ingredient matters is that it can be harsh to the lining of the mouth.  Patients with soft tissue disorders like lichen planus, pemphigus/pemphigoid, burning mouth syndrome, or even just a dry mouth should avoid using a toothpaste with SLS.  To these patients, the SLS causes a severe stinging or burning sensation.

If the inside of your cheeks, lips and tongue burn or sting when you brush your teeth, consider switching to a toothpaste that is SLS-free.  Most brands market this type of toothpaste toward people with a sensitive or dry mouth.

Important note: SLS-free toothpastes do not address tooth sensitivity.  They address sensitive intraoral tissues, like the cheeks, lips, tongue, and gums.

Potassium Nitrate

Toothpastes aimed at treating tooth sensitivity usually contain the ingredient Potassium Nitrate.  This ingredient acts to desensitize the nerve inside each tooth that allow cold, sweet and hot sensations.  Many people find relief from chronic sensitive teeth by using a Potassium Nitrate toothpaste, like Sensodyne.

This ingredient does fight sensitivity caused by exposed roots from gum recession.  It does not treat sensitivity caused by cavities or cracked teeth.  If your sensitivity does not improve after using a Potassium Nitrate toothpaste consistently for at least two weeks, make an appointment to see your dentist so you can rule out other dental problems.


Xylitol is a relatively new ingredient in toothpastes.  It traditional serves as a flavoring agent or sweetener.  Xylitol improves the taste of toothpaste, and it also fights bacteria.  The bad bacteria in plaque, which lead to gum disease and cavities, eat xylitol like it is sugar.  But they cannot digest it, so they die.

Xylitol in toothpastes reduces plaque buildup and fights gum disease and cavities.  Because of its sweet flavor, it is a great ingredient to look for in toothpastes for kids.


Nano-hydroxyapatite is a relatively new ingredient in toothpastes, and it is very difficult to find in the U.S.  You will have to look online for toothpastes containing this ingredient because they are most commonly found in Canada and Japan at this time.

Bioavailable nano-hydroxyapatite works to strengthen enamel, fight cavities, and counteract acid damage.  Hydroxyapatite is  one of the minerals that forms the hard structure of enamel.  Scientists have found that a tooth can absorb bioavailable nano-hydroxyapatite into the enamel to harden that mineral structure.  This helps make the enamel more resistant to cavities and damage from acid.  Studies also show that nano-hydroxyapatite can stop early cavities and keep them from growing into the tooth.


Triclosan is the active ingredient in the popular Colgate Total toothpaste.  It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  Studies show that it reduces plaque buildup and gingivitis.

There are concerns that this ingredient contributes to bacterial resistance to antibiotics (meaning it makes bacteria stronger so that antibiotics are not as effective).  For this reason, we recommend that you use Colgate Total on a temporary basis only.  It can be a great tool to help get your gum disease under control.  Using it for a few months will not hurt you.  Once you notice an improvement in the appearance and feel of your gums, you can stop using it.  They should have less swelling, less bleeding, and less redness.  Then switch to a non-Triclosan toothpaste for long-term use.

More Questions about What is in Your Toothpaste?

Still confused about all of these ingredients?  Call today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ann, Dr. Lauren, Phyllis or Nancy to discuss which toothpaste is best for you and your particular areas of risk.