The link between oral hygiene and personal appearance is heavily emphasized in the  marketing of toothpaste. What we now call toothpaste used to be called dentifrices or tooth polish. The first advertisements for toothpaste used vanity metrics and frequently claimed their products would make users more attractive by whitening and brightening their teeth and freshening their breath. 

An 1870 Sozodont ad promised that “Men go wild for splendid teeth.” However, by the 1920s, the American Dental Association was refuting the cosmetic claims made by dentifrice manufacturers, and decrying the destructive abrasives and harmful whitening agents used in many products.

Prior to the 1900s, toothpaste was widely available but rarely used. It wasn’t until an advertising executive named Claude Hopkins was approached by the brand Pepsodent to create ads that the product became a massive hit. Hopkins achieved the seemingly impossible and made using toothpaste a worldwide habit.  At the time, taking on this project was a risky move, as (despite the nation’s declining dental health), toothpaste was seen as a gimmick rather than a necessity, with only 7% of Americans owning a bottle.

His strategy is one that modern marketers still learn from today.

So what made Hopkins achieve the seemingly impossible? 

He leveraged the psychology of habit formation to create a new ritual across the United States. In the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained how Hopkins was able to leverage a simple cue and a clear reward to create a “neurological craving.” 

Hopkins, in fact, was known for choosing a simple trigger to promote the use of the world’s biggest brands. For example, he had previously promoted Quaker Oats as an energy producing cereal that required daily consumption to be effective, which made the brand a massive success. But what made the Pepsodent strategy special is that in it he identified that what people want and what they need are two different things – and that the first could be used as a means to achieve the second.

After reading several dental textbooks, Hopkins realized the main issue with toothpaste marketing: they were full of promises like “neutralizes salivary deposits” and “allays against inflammation.” Promises that might excite a dental professional, but not an average consumer. I found the same when I wanted to help parents prevent cavities. It was not a problem keeping most parents up at night that they wanted or needed to solve. 

Hopkins identified a more interesting benefit: Plaque causes yellow teeth and yellow teeth are ugly.  Everyone wants white teeth.

Knowing beauty was a priority, especially for women at the time, he decided to rebrand “plaque” by calling it “film” and positioning it as the culprit for ugly decaying teeth.

What does that mean?

Use Pepsodent as a way to enhance something you already inherently value, their looks.

It worked like a charm. Three weeks after the first Pepsodent ad campaign, the brand had more demand that it could keep up with. And in as little as three years, the product went international, later becoming one of the top sellers in the world.

There is certainly a lot to learn from the Pepsodent strategy, not only did Hopkins choose a benefit that truly resonated with his audience, he leveraged it to create habit-driven CTAs, ensuring the longevity of the campaign. 

However, the real magic in this story lies in the product itself. Ten years after it became a household name, competitor toothpaste brands went on a mission to research why the company was still so successful. To everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t just the famous campaign that made people crave the brand, it was the sensation created by its unique recipe. 

Turns out the citric acid and mint oil used to make Pepsodent created a tingly sensation in the mouth – a feeling customers craved as it became associated with cleanliness. 

That craving is essential for habit formation and it was a part of the product all along.

So what can we learn about toothpaste, science & behavioral change?

For habit change to work it should inspire some type of emotion to truly resonate, and for that you also need creativity. With that said, below are some ways you can incorporate this habit-making approach into your life

After Hopkins ad campaign 65% of Americans bought and started using toothpaste and the toothpaste habit continues with now hundreds of different toothpastes on the market.

It was not until the brand Crest was launched in 1955 that fluoride became the standard and ADA-accepted toothpaste additive for the prevention of tooth decay.

Now that you know why we use toothpaste to begin with…..

What is the point of toothpaste?

This is an interesting question.  After having  a child that has sensory issues and learning how toothpaste became a habit, as a Mom,  I have a different answer than I do as a dental professional.

As parents, we tried 12 different toothpastes with different textures and flavors. Until we realized we did not have to use toothpaste. As dental professionals, her Dad a dentist and me a dental hygienist with well water on top of that, we were on the toothpaste train thinking we needed the fluoride to prevent cavities. 

Then there’s the fact that you can use toothpaste to apply fluoride directly onto your tooth to help remineralize, prevent tooth decay and protect weak, sensitive surfaces. 

This aspect alone makes fluoride toothpaste essential for total cavity protection! Right! Stay tuned for my short answer to the fluoride debate. Check out my Fluoride podcast to come for the long answer.

Honestly, you can physically remove plaque with a toothbrush and floss. As long as you’re using some sort of mechanical means to dislodge the plaque buildup, you can technically keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Toothpaste is not necessary, as parents sometimes you need to pick your battles. Before you burn me at the stake.

There is a wide variety of different types of toothpaste out there. They all serve different functions so there is one for everyone. Let’s look at the different toothpastes so you can choose one that’s right for you.

First of all, most toothpastes contain some sort of mint flavoring, which helps your mouth feel fresher and your breath smell better. Kids feel mint is too hot so now there are fruit and bubblegum flavors.

There Are 7 Major Types of Toothpaste

Contrary to what you might think, all toothpastes are not the same. In fact, toothpaste comes in many different varieties, each of which has its own special uses and ingredients.

Here is a list of seven of the major types of toothpaste you’ll find on the market:

1.Fluoridated Toothpaste

This is the most common type of toothpaste out there and is likely what you have in your cabinet at home. In fact, it makes up over 90% of all toothpaste sales and is proven to fight against tooth decay and cavities. Because it contains fluoride, it not only strengthens the enamel of your teeth, but it also remineralizes teeth that have small amounts of decay already. Decay is reversible if you catch it early enough.

  1. Teeth-whitening toothpaste

Even if people don’t smoke, they are still susceptible to dental stains that come about as a result of consuming certain kinds of foods such as coffee, wine, tea or cola. Teeth-whitening toothpaste contains cleansers and abrasives that help remove or lessen the appearance of those stains. 

There are many different toothpastes on the market containing whitening ingredients that are intended for daily use. They aren’t nearly as powerful as tooth whitening treatments, but they can help remove surface stains. Some of these toothpastes contain ingredients that can cause additional teeth sensitivity and are not usually ideal for someone who already has sensitive teeth.

  1. Sensitive teeth toothpaste

If you are one of the many people who suffer from tooth sensitivity there is toothpaste out there that is made just for you. 

The active ingredient in sensitivity toothpaste contains potassium nitrate, which fills in or blocks microscopic holes in the tooth that lead to nerve endings. 

Because it protects these nerves, you will feel less sensitivity to hot and cold. If it doesn’t work right away, don’t be discouraged. It may take up to four to six weeks for you to experience the relief and benefits.

  1. Children’s toothpaste

This type of toothpaste typically contains less fluoride than those designed for adults. This is because of the health risks posed to children who might accidentally ingest too much fluoride. 

Children’s toothpaste also has fewer abrasives in it since kids’ teeth have less build up and are more sensitive than those of adults. Additionally, children’s toothpastes come in fun, tasty flavors for a more pleasant brushing experience.

  1. Herbal toothpaste

If you aren’t a huge fan of chemicals in your toothpaste, this type of toothpaste is a popular option for people who are either sensitive to the additives and ingredients in regular toothpaste, because they don’t contain many of the active chemical ingredients that you would find in a normal toothpaste.  Or you simply want a more natural alternative. 

Herbal toothpastes contain only natural ingredients, making them biodegradable. If you are going to choose this option, Hydroxyapatite is an alternative to fluoride.

Hydroxyapatite (HAp), in its natural form, is a form of calcium that makes up 97% of your tooth enamel and 70% of the dentin of your teeth. The rest of your enamel is actually composed of water, collagen, and other proteins.

Fun fact: hydroxyapatite is also the major (60%) component of bones. In addition to toothpaste, it’s been used in osteopathic research to help strengthen bones. 

6. Tartar Control Toothpaste

Tartar forms when plaque that was not removed from the teeth hardens. When it isn’t removed, and sits on the teeth it can cause issues like tooth and gum decay. 

Even though the only effective way to have tartar buildup on your teeth removed is to go in for a dental cleaning, you have probably seen tartar control toothpastes on the shelf at your local drug store.

During the last 50 years, an increasing number of toothpastes have been marketed that include pyrophosphates as anti-tartar (calculus) agents. 

Pyrophosphates are chemical compounds with low toxicity the prime function is to combine with metal elements and, in toothpastes, to inhibit calcium phosphate deposits in the form of dental calculus.

 It is well established that pyrophosphates inhibit crystal growth of hydroxyapatite in bones and teeth, and theoretically may negatively affect the  demineralisation-remineralisation equilibrium at the tooth surface. 

It is suggested that children should not use pyrophosphate-containing toothpastes under 12 years of age.

  1. Smokers toothpaste

This toothpaste is formulated specifically for those who smoke tobacco. Smokers often find that their teeth become stained as a result of drawing tobacco smoke into their mouths. 

As time passes, tar causes teeth to become tainted with yellowish-brown patches. They contain stronger abrasives compared to regular fluoridated toothpaste which are effective in fighting dark stains caused by tobacco usage. Toothpaste for smokers usually contains cleansing agents designed to make teeth look whiter.

Now that you know the Type, let’s talk ingredients. 

You probably never thought about whether or not toothpaste ingredients included something like sugar. 

After all, it’s supposed to be good for your teeth, right?! Why would someone put sugar in toothpaste? What is it that makes toothpaste sweet anyway if there isn’t sugar in there?

Don’t panic. While there are sweeteners in most toothpaste, they aren’t the same type of sugar that you stir into a batch of cookie dough or that you’ll find in candy. 

Toothpaste is meant to prevent tooth decay and fight gum disease, not give you cavities. There are actually certain types of sugars like xylitol that can help you have cleaner, healthier teeth by repelling dental plaque and bacteria that cause cavities. 

  • Xylitol

Dental caries, the most chronic disease affecting mankind, has been in the limelight with regard to its prevention and treatment. Xylitol, a five-carbon sugar polyol, commercially produced from birch bark and corn cob for use as a sweetener to replace calories from carbohydrates and sugars. has been found to be promising in reducing dental caries disease and also reversing the process of early caries.

  • Fluoride or Hydroxyapatite

This is the most controversial toothpaste ingredient, hands down. Fluoride helps remineralize weak tooth enamel so that the decay process is reversed before a physical cavity actually forms. Common types of fluoride used as toothpaste ingredients are:

  • Stannous fluoride
  • Sodium fluoride
  • Sodium Monofluorophosphate 
  • Amine Fluoride

If you’re looking for fluoride-free toothpastes, hydroxyapatite works similarly to fluoride by strengthening the minerals inside of your tooth enamel to make your smile more resistant to bacteria. It is an amazing alternative.

  •  Abrasives

Even though you’ve heard dental professionals lecture about the dangers of brushing your teeth with abrasives like charcoal, a certain amount of mild abrasion is still safe and effective for plaque and stain removal. 

Common examples include silica, calcium pyrophosphate, calcium carbonate and aluminum oxide.  Not things I want in my toothpaste. But you get to choose for yourself. 

To remove surface stains, toothpastes contains various types of abrasives, such as dehydrated silica gels, hydrated aluminum oxides, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), magnesium carbonate, phosphate salts, and silicates, that not only remove plaque effectively but also contribute to a whiter smile.

My go to is baking soda mixed with an essential oil like orange, lemon or peppermint. But that is me.

Despite their rough texture, these abrasives are gentle enough to protect your tooth enamel from damage. When used as directed, you’ll have less stain buildup to keep your smile whiter, longer.

  • Sweeteners and Flavors

As mentioned above, artificial sweeteners like xylitol or saccharin can make your toothpaste a lot tastier. But additional natural ingredients like essential oils can also help with flavor, fresh breath, and antimicrobial properties. Peppermint and cinnamon are a couple of common examples. A few drops of those go a really long way!

  •  Humectants

A humectant helps hold the ingredients of your toothpaste together so that it doesn’t separate out while it’s sitting on the store shelf. Basically, it helps ensure consistency and texture while preventing your toothpaste from drying out. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to squeeze it out of the tube. Common humectants in toothpaste include glycerin and sorbitol.

  • Toothpaste Detergents

Hands down, the most common detergent found in toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulfate or “SLS.” It’s often listed as an active ingredient because some people are allergic to it and their mouths will start peeling. Unfortunately I am one of those people, so I stay away from toothpaste with this ingredient.

The purpose of using detergent or foaming agents in the first place is to help clean your teeth as you’re physically rubbing away at them with a toothbrush.

Toothpaste Ingredients That Might Cause An Allergic Reaction

1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Number one is sodium lauryl sulfate. SLS is one of those things that you usually find out pretty quickly if you’re allergic to it or not. If your mouth skin is peeling or your gums are red or burn after you use an SLS toothpaste, put it aside and wait to see if things improve. If they do, you probably have an allergy or sensitivity.

2. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another common allergen, but some people grow out of it. If your mouth burns or stings whenever you eat cinnamon or have cinnamon flavors, then avoid those toothpastes. 

3. Gluten

Do you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance? Well, there’s gluten in some toothpastes, too. But don’t assume that they all have it; Crest toothpaste used to have gluten in it, but they have since discontinued that ingredient from their product line. Read the labels.

4. Fluoride

And finally, fluoride. While a fluoride allergy is extremely rare, it is something to take note of. Some people just don’t want products containing it and feel it is poisonous. While I am not a fluoride fan personally I might mention alcohol is poisonous if you get too much too. Yet we still consume it. Pick your poison.

Sensitive Teeth Toothpaste Ingredients

Toothpastes that are specifically designed for sensitive teeth contain desensitizing ingredients. Among them, strontium chloride and potassium nitrate are recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA) as effective in reducing discomfort caused by sensitivity to hot or cold foods. These ingredients work by blocking the transmission of pain signals to the nerves in your teeth.

It may take a few weeks for it to actually help because it closes the tubules on the teeth.

What Are Toothpaste Tablets?  

One popular trend is toothpaste tablets. Instead of coming in a tube, this tablet form toothpaste reduces plastic waste by coming bulk packaged in a recyclable jar or pouch.

Toothpaste tabs are compressed powder capsules that you chew and then brush around your teeth with a toothbrush. They contain ingredients like xylitol, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), hydroxyapatite crystals, essential oils, calcium carbonate, and various other additives depending on the brand. 

However, not all of them contain fluoride because of the way the FDA regulates fluoride-containing oral products.

A lot of toothpaste tablets thrive on being “all-natural” and free of things like parabens, sulfates, or vegan ingredients.

If you’re looking to purchase your first toothpaste tablets, Bite toothpaste bits are a foolproof option. 

Chewable toothpaste is usually referred to as “tablet” or “tab” toothpaste. The best toothpaste tabs are a one-to-one substitute for traditional toothpaste tubes. They typically come in a recyclable glass jar or some type of biodegradable single-use packaging. 

Tablet form toothpaste is a single-dose product where you simply place the toothpaste tab in your mouth, chew it up, and begin brushing your teeth. 

There’s no messy paste to put on your brush (which is great for kids and suitcases on planes) Plus, most of the best toothpaste tablets are no-mess, so there aren’t any irritating ingredients that cause foaming or peeling skin inside your mouth.

On the other hand, you’ll probably find that you’re brushing better with the tablet toothpaste because you have to put a little more effort into chewing it up and moving it around your mouth. You have to sort of swish it up with your saliva to work it into a paste.

Do Toothpaste Tablets Work Better Than Traditional Toothpaste?

Whether you prefer toothpaste pills or traditional toothpaste, your oral care products are only as good as how you use them. If you’re not brushing properly or for long enough amounts of time, they won’t get your teeth any cleaner than regular toothpaste or no toothpaste.

On the other hand, you’ll probably find that you’re brushing better with the tablet toothpaste because you have to put a little more effort into chewing it up and moving it around your mouth. You have to sort of swish it up with your saliva to work it into a paste.

Toothpaste tablets definitely have their benefits, though. They tend to be less messy, reduce household waste, and are extremely portable.

How To Use Toothpaste Tabs

If you plan on giving tablet toothpaste a try, here’s what you need to do:


  • Place the toothpaste tablet in your mouth
  • Chew the tablet to mix it with your saliva until it forms a paste
  • Use a wet toothbrush and start brushing where most of the tablet toothpaste is

You might find that it takes a time or two to get used to using the tablet toothpaste, especially if you’re used to regular gels or pastes that come in a tube.

Then brush like normal, as you:

  • Use a soft or extra-soft bristled brush
  • Angle your toothbrush toward your gums
  • Apply slight amounts of pressure, but nothing too heavy
  • Make short, circular strokes on one or two teeth
  • Double-check that you’re also brushing the gum lines
  • Move to the next two teeth and repeat the process
  • Clean inside and outside of all teeth
  • Brush all chewing surfaces
  • Brush for a minimum of two minutes, twice a day

For best results, spit, but do NOT rinse the toothpaste out of your mouth. That way, anti-cavity fluoride ingredients can stay on your teeth for an added level of protection.

So What’s The Point Of Toothpaste?

Today, there are all sorts of blends of toothpaste for every oral dilemma imaginable. From sensitive teeth to gum disease to whitening, the ingredients are carefully formulated to achieve the best results when you use them daily.

The global toothpaste market size was 17.75 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach 21.99 billion by 2027.

Driving factors are the rising number of children experiencing dental problems. According to the World Health Organization nearly 530 million children have cavities in their primary teeth. As well as the elderly population experiencing increase in incidents of gum disease , tooth decay and aspiration pneumonia. 

Choosing the right brush and toothpaste for your child

When choosing the right toothpaste, remember:

  • for children 0–18 months of age – use only water, no toothpaste
  • from 18 months until the child turns six years old – use a small pea-sized amount of low fluoride children’s toothpaste (check on the pack)
  • from six years of age – use a pea-sized amount of standard fluoride toothpaste.

Tip : Fruit-flavoured toothpastes have become popular in recent years. Non-mint flavours are fine but always make sure toothpaste contains fluoride as this is the key ingredient that protects teeth against tooth decay.

For children who do not have access to fluoridated water, or who have a greater risk of tooth decay for other reasons, guidelines about toothpaste use may vary. For children at a higher risk of decay, the oral health professional may recommend the application of a tooth mousse to make teeth stronger. Ask your oral health professional for more information.

Not all toothpastes are created equally. Some are better for gum recession and tooth sensitivity, while others work better for whitening or gingivitis. Which toothpaste you choose will depend on your thoughts, beliefs, end goal or concerns are. 

If you’re confused by your toothpaste options or by any other aspect of your oral hygiene regimen, You can always ask your professional about which type of toothpaste is best for you, especially if you have concerns over the ingredients. Just remember their beliefs will play into what they recommend as well.

If I can help you schedule a free 10 minute call with me at the link provided. 

A healthy mouth is a healthy body and a happy healthy life. Happy brushing! 

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Sources: | The Power Of Habit |