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Roger Weller, geology instructor regional geology planetary gems
Minerals Found in Toothpaste
Brushing our teeth is something that many of us do 2-3 times a day. That is
what we have always been told to do. The toothpaste cleans our teeth and helps
to keep them healthy. What exactly are we using to brush our teeth with?
Minerals play a really important role in our dental hygiene. There are many
materials and minerals found in the toothpaste that we use. Some of the
minerals that you would find in toothpaste are Fluorspar (fluoride), Mica, Sand
(silica), and Titanium. Let’s take a closer look at what these minerals are,
and what they contribute to toothpaste.
important mineral found in toothpaste is calcite (calcium carbonate). It is an
abrasive ingredient. The abrasives give toothpaste its cleaning power. What
exactly is calcium carbonate and where does it come from? Calcium carbonate can
be found in sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. In its natural state, calcium
carbonate occurs as chalk, limestone and marble. Calcite is a colorless or
white crystalline compound when pure, but it can be almost any color. Calcite
(calcium carbonate) has many other uses such as for making paper, paint, and
plastic. You can also find calcium carbonate in many everyday products such as
bathroom cleaner and shoe polish. Calcium carbonate is also used as a source of
calcium in some foods. With all these uses of calcite (calcium carbonate), it
is most likely a mineral that we could not do without.
photo by R. Weller
Sodium Fluoride is the most popular active ingredient in toothpaste. Surprisingly, it is also one of the main ingredients in rat poison. Fluoride comes from the mineral fluorite and it is used to help reduce cavities. Fluoride coats and strengthens tooth enamel. Fluorspar, or the mineral fluorite, is a calcium fluoride. Fluorite is a very soft mineral and it breaks up easily. Fluorite comes in many different colors. It’s been thought of as the most colorful mineral in the world. However, pure fluorite is colorless.
Fluorspar occurs in granite which is an igneous rock. It also occurs in limestone which is a sedimentary rock. This leads me to the question, “Are we brushing our teeth with rocks?” Well, yes we are. The rocks and rock products that are used in toothpaste act as abrasives and they help scrub our teeth to rub the plaque away. Is it possible for the abrasives in the toothpaste to wear away our tooth enamel? Some enamel erosion may occur, but that’s generally due to over-zealous brushing.
Mica Mica in a rock
R. Weller/Cochise College http://www.flickr.com
Mica is another mineral that plays an important part in the development of toothpaste. Mica is a mineral common in many rocks. Mica has a one directional cleavage and peels in very thin layers. It is a very flexible mineral, and it is also very flakey. Some toothpaste includes powdered white mica. Mica acts as a mild abrasive to aid in the polishing of the tooth surface. It also adds a glittery shimmer to the toothpaste. Mica is what gives toothpaste that sparkle.
Fine Silica Sand
Industrial sand and gravel, is often called, “silica,” “silica sand,” or “quartz sand.” Sand is composed of quartz or silicon dioxide. It is also one of the abrasive minerals used in toothpaste. If you were to just put sand or rocks in your mouth, you would scratch your teeth. Therefore, the mineral is processed into amorphous silica, and it is much softer. The silica in toothpaste also acts as a thickener. It’s what keeps the liquids and solids in the toothpaste from separating.
Titanium Titanium dioxide
Titanium is a hard silvery-white metallic element that is found in the minerals ilmenite, leucoxene, and rutile. Titanium was at one time a metal that had little use. Titanium is mined in the United States, especially Florida, as well as overseas. About 95% of titanium production is consumed in the form of titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide has an intensely white permanent pigment. This pigment has great luster, good endurance, and a pure white color. This is what is used to make most toothpaste white. Titanium dioxide is also used to make white paint, paper, and plastics.
It is amazing how far that the development of toothpaste has come. When toothpaste was first introduced, it was mainly used to just clean teeth. However, as I have already discussed, toothpaste today does a whole lot more. Fluorspar (fluoride), Mica (sparkle), Sand (paste thickener), and Titanium (titanium dioxide) are minerals and materials that all contribute to the process of toothpaste. Toothpaste helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease. It also desensitizes and whitens teeth. Toothpaste fulfills many functions, both therapeutic and cosmetic. All the minerals used in toothpaste are beneficial in some way. Toothpaste is a commodity that every household should have, especially if they want to have clean, healthy teeth and a great smile.