Toothpaste is a soft substance, applied from a tube onto a toothbrush, which is highly effective at cleaning the teeth. It removes food particles and plaque from the surface of the teeth and the fluoride contained within toothpaste helps to protect them against tooth decay and gum disease. Toothpaste also provides fresh breath and a healthy smile.

Brushing the teeth, flossing and using a mouthwash are all essential components of a daily dental hygiene routine. Their effectiveness can be further increased by professional cleaning at the dentist's.

What is toothpaste comprised of?

Toothpaste is produced from a set formula which applies to many of the well known brands although there will be an emphasis on a certain ingredient. This helps to distinguish it from other brands.

Toothpaste or the gel variety contains the following ingredients:

  • Fluoride: this substance is added to most brands of toothpaste and water systems in the UK. It strengthens the teeth and helps protect them against tooth decay but only a small amount is needed in order to achieve this.
  • Thickener: this ingredient gives toothpaste its characteristic texture and binds all the other ingredients together.
  • Detergent: it plays an important part in removing food debris and plaque from the teeth and freshens up the breath.
  • Humectant: an ingredient which is responsible for keeping the toothpaste moist whilst in the tube. It also contributes towards the texture of the toothpaste.
  • Abrasive: this ingredient helps to remove plaque and any stains on the teeth. They are designed not to damage or remove tooth enamel.
  • Flavouring: this is an important aspect of toothpaste and includes mint and cinnamon. The flavouring ensures that toothpaste has a pleasant taste and is often one of the reasons why people choose a particular brand.
  • Colouring: this operates in the same manner as the flavouring. Toothpaste is available in a range of colours from the pure white variety through to toothpaste with coloured stripes.

Toothpastes for sensitive teeth contain potassium chloride which helps to protect them against 'dentine hypersensitivity'.

What is dentine hypersensitivity?

Dentine hypersensitivity is a condition where the dentine of the tooth has become exposed which leaves it vulnerable to extremes of temperature. The first indication someone has of this condition is when they consume hot/cold/sweet foods and liquids which cause a painful reaction.

The reason for this is a series of 'tubules' which run from the outer edge of the dentine to connect to nerves within its centre. These tubules contain fluid which moves when in contact with anything hot, cold or sugary and stimulate the nerves.

This causes pain and discomfort whenever the teeth come into contact with hot or cold beverages.

There are 'low abrasion' toothpastes which are specially designed for sensitive teeth. They contain potassium chloride salts which enter the open dentine tubules and close these off. This then numbs the nerves and prevents any sensations of pain and discomfort.

It is advisable to visit your dentist if you experience any pain due to dentine hypersensitivity as this will require further investigation. Your dentist will recommend a course of treatment which will include using toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

What types of toothpaste are available?

There is a vast array of toothpaste available which all claim to be the best for your teeth. This unlimited choice includes toothpastes which are best for dealing with tartar, toothpastes which protect against dental cavities and toothpastes which whiten the teeth.

Very often it is the price or a particular brand which dictates choice but in most cases it is simply a case of personal preference.

Teeth differ between individuals and a particular type of toothpaste may suit one person but not another. Some teeth whitening toothpastes are too abrasive for certain kinds of teeth or don't give the desired result.

The types of toothpaste available are:

  • Normal or standard toothpaste: these ordinary types of toothpaste are produced from a basic formula and are effective at cleaning the teeth.
  • Toothpaste for children: these are specially designed for children's dental needs. They contain lesser amounts of fluoride and may be flavoured in a particular way to appeal to children.
  • Toothpaste for sensitive teeth: this toothpaste is made from the same formula but also contains potassium chloride which helps prevent pain and discomfort.
  • Toothpaste for smokers: these types of toothpaste are specially formulated to remove stubborn stains caused by nicotine and tar.
  • Teeth whitening toothpaste: this toothpaste removes stains from the teeth and also improves their appearance. These are popular with many people who desire healthy, white teeth but a lower cost than if carried out by a professional.
  • Toothpaste made from baking soda: this toothpaste is considered to be less abrasive than other types but as equally as effective. In some cases it is seen as more effective at cleaning the teeth.
  • Gel toothpaste: gel toothpaste or dental gel works in the same way as other types of toothpaste. It helps to clean the teeth of bacteria and other organisms and protects them against the build up of plaque.

Many types of toothpaste contain fluoride which is highly effective at protecting the teeth against tooth decay. Unfortunately, excessive amounts of fluoride can be problematic for children as it can result in a condition called fluorosis.


If a child consumes too much fluoride whilst their teeth are in the early developmental stages then this leads to the appearance of yellow, brown or black spots on their teeth. In other cases it can cause a mottling effect.

This tends to occur between the ages of one and four and around the time when the permanent teeth are developing underneath the milk teeth.

Once the permanent teeth have appeared then fluorosis ceases to be a problem although teeth whitening may be required in more serious cases.

The dentist will advise parents to monitor their child's fluoride intake and to ensure that they only use a pea sized amount of toothpaste when brushing their teeth. Fluoride is also added to tap water and many soft drinks so parents will need to guard against excessive consumption of these.

The fluoride content of a toothpaste or soft drink can be calculated by looking for the letters 'ppmF' on the side of the box, bottle or carton. This stands for 'parts per million of fluoride'.

How important is toothpaste as part of a dental hygiene routine?

Both adults and children need to be aware of the importance of following a dental hygiene routine which includes brushing the teeth, flossing and an antiseptic mouthwash.

Caring for the teeth on a daily basis combined with a reduced intake of sugary foods and regular check ups at the dentist will ensure that they remain clean and healthy.

A good dental hygiene routine involves the following:

  • Using a fluoride toothpaste - with a manual or electric toothbrush.
  • Flossing the teeth - to remove food particles and plaque.
  • Using an antiseptic mouthwash - to rinse away debris dislodged by brushing and flossing the teeth.

This can be undertaken on a daily basis. In terms of prevention, consider the following:

  • Professional cleaning every six months, e.g. scaling.
  • Twice yearly visit to the dentist - to monitor dental health.
  • Limiting one-s intake of sweet or sugary foods - cakes, chocolate, fruit juices etc.
  • Avoid consuming sweets or sugars in between meals - choose water instead.

It is important to develop good dental habits at an early age as these will continue into adulthood and beyond. A daily routine will ensure that the teeth stay healthy and reduce the risk of dental problems such as tooth decay.

Preventative dentistry

It is still important to visit the dentist on a regular basis as they will monitor your dental health and offer advice on the best ways of caring for your teeth. They can also detect the early signs of a dental condition and treat if before it becomes serious. This is particularly relevant in the case of gum disease which if left untreated can lead to the advanced version called periodontitis.

Guide to Toothpaste