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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Laura J. Marinus
Physical Geology
Fall 2009


Toothpaste, What Is It Really?


            Since I was a little girl I was told to always brush my teeth.  As a matter of fact I was told to brush after every meal was what my mama said was best.  However; if you’re like nearly everyone I know, that is nearly impossible in today’s society. 

            Smiles are a huge part of our personality.  When we smile, we are confident, or so I believe.  Some of us don’t smile because our teeth are not that “snow white” color we are being marinated by advertisements claiming how easy it is to have the whitest teeth, the brightest smile etc.

I went to Walgreens for a glance at the selection of toothpaste offered there.  This by no means is everything that is out there; but it is still a large amount to select from.  The promise of whiter teeth, healthier gums, tarter control, fresher breath, and the list goes on and on.

[Photos taken by Laura Marinus]

Below are some pictures of my son’s baby teeth that I saved.  The pictures were taken through the lens of a stereo microscope using 30X power.  The detail of the teeth is extraordinary.



[Photos taken by Joshua Marinus]

[Photo taken by Joshua Marinus]

[Photo taken by Joshua Marinus]




            I spoke with Elizabeth Warren from the Cochise Children’s Dental Center.  She works for   Dr. Larry Bloom, DDS, PA (Diplomat, American Board of Pediatric Dentistry) in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  She verified Dr. Bloom does not have a preference in toothpaste, other than to ensure it has fluoride.  She confirmed brushing between meals & flossing after each meal is key to a successful healthy smile.  I asked her if working for a dentist had changed her habits for the better.  She smiled and admitted it has.  (Picture below is the front desk to the Cochise Children’s Dental Center, taken by Laura Marinus)



            The American Dental Association (ADA) boasts the following regarding cleaning of your pearly whites.  What I found comical is most dentists do not really give you a decisive answer, as if saying so would make them liable if it didn’t prove true.  So they seem to be extremely careful what they say.  Understandably with how law suits can run amuck.

Talk to your dentist about what types of oral care products will be most effective for you. The ADA Seal on a product is your assurance that it has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Look for the ADA Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, inter-dental cleaners, oral irrigators, mouth rinses and other oral hygiene products.”  []

In 1994, I attended an English 101 class at Cochise College.  The book required for class was entitled, “The Bedford Guide for College Writers” with reader, research manual and handbook.”   One of the assignments was to read an article written by Paul Bodanis entitled “What is in your toothpaste?”  I admit I never thought about it before.  I am sure like many other people; I put blind faith in the manufacturers.  I trusted anything put out in stores for sale was going to be healthy or at least, safe for us, the consumer.  A bit naïve I confess.  I’m a baby boomer so work with me here, ok?  This article opened my eyes to the amazing ingredients used for toothpaste.  I said amazing, because I would “never” put some of the ingredients listed in toothpaste in my mouth knowingly. 


I did a search for the different kinds of toothpaste.  I found there to be such an abundant variety it seemed almost endless as well as overwhelming to choose from.  I spoke to several friends, neighbors and classmates to inquire how they choose their toothpaste.  I was curious what facts (if any) made the decision for their “pearly whites”.  Here are a few answers: 

·                 Whatever brand is cheapest, or on sale.

·         As long as it has fluoride, it doesn’t matter to me.

·         Something for sensitive teeth.

·         Dollar store is just fine.

·         I only use baking soda and peroxide like my great grandparents did.

Some were specific about brands.  The most popular one within the small survey I conducted was a tie between Colgate and Crest. 

      Our teeth are rated on the Mohr’s Scale of Hardness at level 5.  A Diamond is the hardest at a level 10.  The tooth consists of enamel, dentin, and pulp.

§           What is enamel?

§           What is dentin?

§           What is pulp?

Tooth Section.svg

(picture credited to: ?

            Now you may be asking, “Why I am spending so much time on teeth and what they are made up when my paper is called Toothpaste what is it Really?”  Well, in order to select the right toothpaste, I felt it important to understand the tooth.  After all these teeth are something we hope to keep for the rest of our lives.  So selecting the right product should be important, don’t you agree?  Well, I do… so let’s continue. 

            When you go to buy toothpaste, you will find a vast selection to choose from.  All promise whiter teeth, fresher breath, better tarter control, healthier gums, and over all the best hygiene for your oral care.  Do you have sensitive teeth, do you like gel over regular paste, perhaps you’re into the all natural products.  Whatever your preference there is another issue to contend with, price.  What are you paying for?  Let’s take a look at the ingredients of the following toothpastes.  Can you say with great certainty that you know what all the ingredients listed are for?  I know I couldn’t. 

[Photo taken by Laura Marinus]

Check out the ingredients in Crest, Colgate, and Toms toothpastes:

1)     Crest, Whitening Plus Scope

Active Ingredient:  Sodium fluoride 0.243%...........................................Anti-cavity toothpaste

Inactive Ingredients:  sorbitol, water, hydrated silica, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, flavor, sodium lauryl sulfate, disodium pyrophosphate, alcohol (0.7%), xanthan gum, sodium saccharin, glycerin, carbormer 956, poloxamer 407, polysorbate 80, sodium benzoate, cetypyridinium chloride, benzoic acid, titanium dioxide, blue 1, yellow 5.  (


                                                                                           [Photo taken by Joshua Marinus]

2)     Colgate MaxWhite with Mini Bright Strips

Active Ingredient:  Sodium fluoride 0.24% (0.15% w/v fluoride ion)………………..Anti-cavity

Inactive Ingredients:  sorbitol, water, hydrated silica, PEG 12, flavor, sodium lauryl sulfate, flavor, cellulose gum, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium saccharin, methylcellulose, FD&C, blue no 1.  (   

[Photo taken by Laura Marinus]


3)     Natural Care TOM’S of Maine

Active Ingredient:  Sodium fluoride 0.243%.............................................................Anti-cavity

Inactive Ingredients:  sorbitol, hydrated silica, water, glycerin, xylitol, peppermint (Mentha piperita) oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, zinc citrate trihydrate, xanthan gum  ( [For external use only] ßfunny thing to put on a toothpaste container.  I mean don’t we put this in our mouths?  Color me confused!

                                        (Photo taken by Laura Marinus:  30x of Natural Care TOM’S of Maine toothpaste)

     ALL three of these examples of toothpaste have the following WARNING:  “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN UNDER 6 YEARS OF AGE.  If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

     WOW, something we put in our mouth to clean out teeth if “accidentally swallowed we need to seek medical help or contact Poison Control Center right away.  Now that makes me wonder just how safe this product is.  The ingredients must have some damaging affects as well.  This sounds like a trade off for a bright white smile and less cavities.  What price are we really paying, hrmmm?  Are you curious yet?  I know I am.

A few common ingredients that the three samples above share are:

(1)       hydrated silica:

(2)       sodium lauryl sulfate:

(3)       sorbitol:

   Let’s look at a few other ingredients in the samples above:

(1)    tetrasodium pyrophosphate:

(2)   xanthan gum:

(3)   cocamidopropyl betaine:

     Wow, there are so many big words to sound important and when they are researched they are basic toxins, dish soap, etc.  Some ingredients strip away the enamel from our teeth; while others are suppose to be good for the gums.  Toothpaste seems like a concoction of someone’s best guess to provide an oral hygiene product.  They decorate them with flavors, colors, strips, and celebrity endorsements all to encourage us to believe their product is the best product.

     I don’t want to leave you with all bad news.  There is always alternatives should you decide the ingredients in the commercial brands are not healthy for you and your family.  I discovered some “home made” toothpaste places where you can make your own.

    Our teeth are a very important part of our anatomy and we need to take proper care of them by using products we know is good for us.  Sometimes researching can discourage us; but if we don’t take care of our pearly whites who will? 

    I enjoyed sharing this research with you.  I hope you learned something about your toothpaste and what is important to you.  Toothpaste is like the commercials for medicine you see advertised on TV; you take a product to get rid of one problem, however; the product can cause a series of other issues.  This leaves you with the decision, is the original problem something worth taking in the first place?

     Bill Cosby, “Himself” has a very unique take on the Dentist.  In conclusion of my paper I leave with you with the 8 minutes of Bill’s very delightful visit to the dentist!