Toothpaste Ingredients and Their Functions (+Tips)

Toothpaste Ingredients and Their Functions (+Tips)

Oral health is so important. After all, it’s the gateway to your overall bodily health – not to mention good dental hygiene helps you look, smell, and feel your best every day!

However, these days it can be hard to know which toothpaste to choose; there are just so many options.

One of the easiest ways to choose which toothpaste to use is to look closely at the ingredients list.

Knowing the difference between different types of ingredients, and what each one means is crucial to picking the perfect toothpaste for you! 

If you’re looking for a starting point, this article is for you! We’ll go over everything you need to know including: 

  • Active Ingredients
  • Inactive Ingredients
  • Controversial Ingredients
  • Why Boka?

Let’s jump right in! 

Active Ingredients

Active ingredients are those that have a noticeable, chemical effect. 

Basically, they’re the main components of any medicine, supplement, ointment, or product. Toothpaste typically contains a variety of ingredients, each serving a specific function. Here are some of the most common active ingredients you will find in toothpaste: 


Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical found in many substances, most prevalently in water. 

In many places, fluoride is added to the water systems as well as to toothpaste. This is because fluoride has been shown to prevent tooth decay. 

However, despite the prevalence of fluoride, it is not without risk. The main hazard with overconsumption of fluoride is in children under six years of age. 

Fluoride toxicity can result in a number of gastrointestinal issues, as well as cosmetic damage to the teeth – and in some rare cases, organ dysfunction. 

As these cases occur only when large amounts of fluoride are ingested, almost all children's toothpastes are non-fluoridated as children are at greater risk of accidentally swallowing dental hygiene products. 

Due to risks such as these (and other reported health consequences), many choose to avoid fluoride whenever possible. 


Partly in response to fluoride's increasingly evident risks, nanohydroxyapatite has been an up-and-coming active ingredient in many toothpastes and other dental products. 

Nano-hydroxyapatite is the micro form of hydroxyapatite – the main component in biological human enamel, as well as being a major component in the general makeup of tooth and bone. 

Nano-hydroxyapatite is generally considered safe for use in toothpaste formulations. It is biocompatible and closely resembles the mineral composition of tooth enamel. 

Applied topically, it has been shown to be effective in rebuilding damage on teeth, as well as reducing dental sensitivity. 

It has been widely used in dentistry for many years but is just starting to hit the consumer market! Due to its enamel-restoring properties, n-Ha may also be an effective whitening agent in itself. 

Desensitizing agents

Many people struggle with sensitivity in their teeth or gums that make brushing uncomfortable. 

To combat this, many toothpastes employ desensitizing agents that help make using the product a more pleasant experience. 

Chemical ingredients such as tricalcium phosphate have been proven to be effective against dental hypersensitivity, especially cold sensitivity! 

For generalized sensitivity, there are many effective active ingredients – most commonly aloe vera, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and provide an overall soothing effect. 

Tartar control agents

Tartar control agents help to prevent the buildup of tartar, also known as dental calculus, on the teeth. Tartar is a hardened form of dental plaque that forms when plaque minerals in saliva combine with food particles and bacteria on the teeth. Tartar control agents work by inhibiting the formation of tartar or by helping to break down existing tartar deposits.

While it is mainly addressed by the physical motion of brushing teeth as well as abrasive agents (see below), there are also chemical active ingredients that help combat tartar buildup. 

These include antibiotics, phenols, quaternary ammonium compounds, bisbiguanides, Delmopinol, and sanguinarine, and if needed they may decrease plaque buildup by twenty to ninety percent! 

However, chemical intervention is generally only needed in special cases or conditions such as gingivitis. For day-to-day dental care, these agents are not necessarily required in toothpastes. 

Whitening agents

If you’re seeking to combat dental staining or yellowing, whitening toothpaste is an excellent option!

Toothpaste often contains whitening agents designed to help remove surface stains from the teeth and promote a brighter, whiter smile. These whitening agents work by either physically scrubbing away stains or chemically breaking them down.  

There are many different whitening agents that might be found in your toothpaste, but some are gentler (and more effective) than others. 

In general, proceed with caution with any hydrogen peroxide-based toothpaste as this harsh bleach should really only be applied by a dentist (if at all!) 

However, toothpastes containing nanohydroxyapatite are generally a safe bet to whiten your teeth while rebuilding your enamel, as well as for natural whiteners such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or coconut oil. 

Inactive Ingredients

Inactive ingredients are those that do not have a designated chemical purpose but are still present in your product. This includes products like colorants, preservatives, texturizing agents, and flavors:


Abrasives are key components of toothpaste formulations. They remove plaque, food particles, and surface stains from teeth by mechanically scrubbing the surface. This helps maintain oral hygiene and promote a clean, polished appearance.

Toothpaste targeted at whitening usually tends to have a higher level of abrasives than other toothpastes. 

These abrasive agents are carefully formulated to remove the bad stuff from the surface of the tooth, without damaging the enamel or gums. 

However, if you have very sensitive teeth or gum damage, you may want to look for an option with less abrasive ingredients. 


Humectants are ingredients that prevent toothpaste from drying out. Commonly occurring humectants in toothpaste include glycerin and sorbitol. 

They work by binding the solvent (typically water) within the solid ingredients of the toothpaste to prevent or slow evaporation. 

This enables the toothpaste to retain its gel-like state, which is ideal for evenly spreading over the surface of your teeth!

While humectants are powerful, it’s still important to remember to replace the cap on your tube of toothpaste as well as avoid putting it anywhere that gets too hot to prevent it from drying out. 

Binders and thickeners

Binders and thickeners are the other important ingredients in helping to preserve the texture of your toothpaste. 

They make sure that the active ingredients in the  toothpaste are correctly and evenly concentrated, and help keep it from separating. 

A commonly used thickener in toothpaste is xanthan gum, which increases the viscosity of water-based products. 

As well as being found in dental products, xanthan gum is a common food additive and can be found in things like salad dressings, ice creams and puddings, gravy, and other thick sauces. 

It’s also often used in gluten-free products as a textural alternative to wheat gluten. Other thickeners in toothpaste include colloids and synthetic cellulose, though they are less common. 

Flavoring agents

To make tooth brushing as pleasant as possible, flavoring agents are crucial. 

They are what give toothpaste its taste as well as mask some less pleasant flavors from the other ingredients, such as bitterness from baking soda. 

Mint is the most common toothpaste flavor as it is strong, fresh, and leaves you with long-lasting pleasant breath. 

The minty flavor usually comes from small amounts of essential oils such as spearmint and peppermint, as well as eucalyptus. Menthol is also commonly added for a stronger, “cold” flavor. 

For other flavors of toothpaste, fruit extracts and other essential oils such as lavender may be added. 


Toothpastes are also often gently sweet, which makes them taste better!

However, since adding sugar would be detrimental to oral health, most toothpaste brands use artificial sweeteners such as sodium saccharin, sorbitol, and glycerol. 

One of the best artificial sweeteners for toothpaste may be Xylitol as it also helps to prevent cavities and tooth decay. 

Foaming agents 

Foaming agents are added to froth up your toothpaste while you brush, which helps to make a small amount go further and also helps you visually verify the cleanliness aspect of toothbrushing!

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is the most common foaming agent used in toothpastes. 

However, since this additive has been linked to negative health effects (as expanded upon below), many leading brands have opted to substitute it for Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate – a gentler alternative.  


Preservatives lengthen the shelf life of your toothpaste by preventing the growth of any microorganisms and increasing the stability of the ingredients. They help ensure that the toothpaste remains safe and effective for use over an extended period.

Commonly used preservatives include sodium benzoate, methylparaben, and ethylparaben. 

However, the latter two are sometimes undesirable due to their class as parabens, which is expanded upon below. 

Even without chemical preservatives, high-quality toothpaste generally has a long shelf life and is unlikely to get contaminated due to the nature of the ingredients. 

Controversial Ingredients

Like any product, toothpastes do historically contain some ingredients that are not ideal.

While some may still opt to use products with these ingredients, many choose to avoid them due to their perceived risks or downsides. 


Triclosan is a chemical additive found in many fluoridated toothpastes, as well as other self-care products. 

It is an antibacterial preservative that prevents these products from getting contaminated or going off. 

However, a recent study demonstrated that products containing triclosan were not any more effective at removing bacteria than those without it!

Additionally, triclosan may have negative side effects. 

While the ingredients in toothpaste are not meant to be swallowed, they need to be tolerable for ingestion in at least small amounts, and triclosan can also be absorbed through the skin. 

This means that using a self-care product containing triclosan, oral or otherwise, leads to it entering the body. 

The chemical itself has been linked to the development of allergies, skin irritation, and food sensitivities. 

It’s also an endocrine system disruptor, meaning it alters hormone production. This can cause problems, especially in women (and those assigned female at birth.) 

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

As mentioned above, sodium lauryl sulfate is a commonly used foaming agent in toothpaste!

It’s effective for this purpose due to its high level of water solubility, and because it is a denaturing agent (something that breaks up proteins.) 

However, these very traits make oral use of SLS problematic. It is an irritant both to skin and mucosa – the soft, moist flesh that makes up the gums and the inside of our mouths. Common side effects can include dryness of the mouth, irritation of the gums or oral tissues, or exacerbation of conditions such as canker sores.

With repeated exposure, SLS can damage these soft surfaces and leave the mouth vulnerable to infections such as mouth ulcers or gum disease.  

For individuals who experience sensitivity or irritation related to SLS, there are SLS-free toothpaste alternatives available on the market.


Parabens are another class of preservatives that are commonly found in toothpastes, hair care products, and other cosmetics. 

They have antimicrobial properties and work to prevent any bacteria or fungi from accumulating. They are effective for this purpose, and are even used in wound care and infection prevention in medical settings. 

However, parabens are a highly controversial ingredient for several reasons. 

They mimic estrogen, a naturally occurring hormone in the body, and may disrupt the endocrine system that is calibrated by estrogen levels. 

This has been linked to a range of negative health effects including breast cancer, hormonal regulation, and concerns around pregnancy and birth. 

Additionally, parabens may not be filtered out by standard wastewater treatment, meaning that as they are washed down the sink they get released into the environment and waterways.

Once released, parabens degrade into much more toxic by-products, which in turn cause a risk of greater hormone-linked hazards if re-consumed such as birth defects, abnormal development, and hormone disorders.    

Propylene Glycol 

Propylene Glycol is used in certain toothpastes to create a smooth texture and as a preservative. 

However, it’s becoming less and less popular (thankfully) due to the host of risks it presents. 

Overconsumption of the product can be toxic, and in large amounts, it can cause heart and central nervous system problems, seizures, and even coma. 

Additionally, when processed by humans and excreted into wastewater, propylene glycol is difficult to filter out. 

It is then left to degrade in the ocean or freshwater sources, the process of which robs the water of oxygen and has negative consequences for aquatic life. 

Overall, propylene glycol is considered safe for use in toothpaste when used as directed. However, some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to propylene glycol, experiencing irritation or other adverse reactions. If you have concerns about propylene glycol or experience any adverse effects after using toothpaste containing this ingredient, it's advisable to discontinue use and consult with your dentist or healthcare professional for further guidance.

Join Boka

If you’re looking for a toothpaste without any controversial ingredients, the latest in cutting-edge, science-backed oral health care, and a great taste – why not try Boka

Our toothpastes come in fun, delicious, and natural flavors and provide effective whitening solutions and transparent ingredient lists. What’s not to love? 

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