Taking care of your teeth is important for everyone. So, it’s no surprise that you’re confronted with dozens of toothpastes options when you walk down the oral health aisle.
When choosing a toothpaste, most people consider the ingredients, expiration date, the health benefits, and sometimes the flavor.
Whitening! Anticavity! Tartar control! Fresh breath! These are all common phrases you’ll see on a tube of toothpaste.
There’s also a colored bar on the bottom of toothpaste tubes. Some claim that the color of this bar means a great deal about the toothpaste’s ingredients. Nonetheless, like a lot of stuff floating around on the internet, the claim about these color codes is completely false.
The color on the bottom of your toothpaste means absolutely nothing about the ingredients, and you shouldn’t use it to help you decide on a toothpaste.
A fake consumer tip about the color codes of toothpaste tubes has been circulating the internet for quite some time. According to the tip, you should be paying close attention to the bottom of your toothpaste tubes. There’s a small colored square at the bottom and the color, be it black, blue, red, or green, allegedly reveals the ingredients of the toothpaste:
- green: all natural
- blue: natural plus medicine
- red: natural and chemical
- black: pure chemical
Unsurprisingly, this tidbit of internet wisdom is totally false.
The colored rectangle actually has nothing to do with the toothpaste’s formulation. It’s simply a mark made during the manufacturing process. The marks are read by light beam sensors, which notify machines where the packaging should be cut, folded, or sealed.
These marks do come in many colors and they’re not limited to green, blue, red, and black. Different colors are used on different types of packaging or with different sensors and machines. In other words, all the colors mean exactly the same thing.
If you really want to know what’s in your toothpaste, you can always read the ingredients printed on the toothpaste box.
Most toothpastes contain the following ingredients.
A humectant material to prevent hardening of the toothpaste after opening, such as:
A solid abrasive for removing food debris and polishing teeth, such as:
- calcium carbonate
A binding material, or thickening agent, to stabilize the toothpaste and prevent separation, such as:
- carboxymethyl cellulose
- xanthan gum
A sweetener — that won’t give you cavities — for taste, such as:
- sodium saccharin
- acesulfame K
A flavoring agent, like spearmint, peppermint, anise, bubblegum, or cinnamon. The flavor doesn’t contain sugar.
A surfactant to help the toothpaste foam up and to emulsify the flavoring agents. Examples include:
- sodium lauryl sulfate
- sodium N‐lauroyl sarcosinate
Fluoride, which is a naturally occurring mineral known for its ability to strengthen enamel and prevent cavities. Fluoride may be listed as sodium fluoride, sodium monofluorophosphate, or stannous fluoride.
The color on the bottom of the tube doesn’t tell you which of the above ingredients is in the toothpaste, or whether it’s considered “natural” or “chemical.”
Even if the theory about color codes turned out to be true, it wouldn’t really make sense. Everything – including natural ingredients – is made out of chemicals, and the word “medicine” is too vague to really mean anything.
If you’re worried about what’s in your toothpaste, read the ingredients printed right on the tube. If in doubt, choose a toothpaste with an American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. The ADA seal means that it’s been tested and proven to be safe and effective for your teeth and overall health.
Along with the above ingredients, some toothpastes include special ingredients for different reasons.
Whitening toothpaste contains either calcium peroxide or hydrogen peroxide for stain removal and a whitening effect.
Toothpaste for sensitive teeth includes a desensitizing agent, such as potassium nitrate or strontium chloride. If you’ve ever taken a sip of hot coffee or a bite of ice cream and felt a sharp pain, this type of toothpaste might be right for you.
Toothpaste for kids
Children’s toothpaste contains less fluoride than toothpastes for adults due to the risk of accidental ingestion. Excess fluoride can damage tooth enamel and cause dental fluorosis.
Tartar or plaque control
Tartar is hardened plaque. Toothpaste advertised for tartar control may include zinc citrate or triclosan. Toothpaste containing triclosan has been shown in one review to reduce plaque, gingivitis, bleeding gums, and tooth decay when compared to toothpaste that doesn’t contain triclosan.
“Smokers” toothpastes have stronger abrasives to remove stains caused by smoking.
Despite strong evidence showing the importance of fluoride for oral health, some consumers are choosing fluoride-free toothpastes. This type of toothpaste will help clean your teeth, but won’t protect them against decay compared with toothpaste that has fluoride.
Companies such as Tom's of Maine make natural and herbal toothpastes, many of which avoid fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate. They may contain baking soda, aloe, activated charcoal, essential oils, and other plant extracts. Their health claims usually haven’t been clinically proven.
You can also get prescription toothpaste from your dentist for toothpaste that contains even higher amounts of fluoride.
Everything is a chemical — even natural ingredients. You can completely ignore the color code on the bottom of the tube. It means nothing about the toothpaste’s contents.
When choosing a toothpaste, look for an ADA seal of acceptance, an unexpired product, and your favorite flavor.