Toothpaste — we use it every single day. In fact, Americans brush their teeth nearly 200 billion times a year and spend more than 1.6 billion dollars on it. But, have you ever wondered exactly how it helps our teeth? And how do we go about choosing which oneâ€™s right for us?
Toothpaste is not a relatively modern phenomena. In fact, as long ago as 3000-5000 BC Egyptians made a dental cream by mixing powdered ashes of oxen hooves with myrrh, burned egg shells, pumice, and water. Unfortunately, these early Egyptians didnâ€™t have toothbrushes but used chew sticks to apply their dental cream.
In 1000 AD Persians added burnt shells of snails and oysters along with gypsum. Unfortunately, at this point, toothpaste was still reserved for the rich. In 18th century England a tooth cleaning â€œpowderâ€ containing borax was sold in ceramic pots. One of the problems, which lasted well into the twentieth century, was that they were often very abrasive, causing damage to teeth.
Before we can understand how toothpaste works, we must first understand our mouths. Your mouth is your own private zoo, containing one or more of 500 types of microorganisms. Some of these, mainly streptococcus mutans, create sticky plaque from food residue in your mouth.
Microorganisms in our mouth feed on left over food to create acid and particles called volatile sulfur molecules. Acid eats into tooth enamel to produce cavities while volatile sulfur molecules give breath its foul odor. Toothpaste works in tandem with toothbrushing to clean teeth and remove plaque bacteria. Specifically:
Toothpaste works with toothbrushing to clean teeth and fight plaque bacteria. Specifically:
â€¢ Toothpaste contains abrasives which physically scrub away plaque. In addition, toothpaste abrasives help remove food stains from teeth and polish tooth surfaces.
â€¢ Toothpaste delivers fluoride to the teeth. Fluoride incorporates itself into tooth enamel weakened by acid attack, making it more resistant to future acid attack from plaque bacteria and food. This is perhaps the most important function of toothpaste, and is responsible for the dramatic reduction of cavities in todayâ€™s society.
â€¢ Some toothpastes contain ingredients which chemically hinder the growth of plaque bacteria. These include ingredients like natural Xylitol and artificial triclosan.
FLUORIDE. Fluoride is an important trace element in human nutrition. Daily exposure to small quantities is widely considered to be vital for maintenance of sound tooth structure. Ingested or systemic fluoride has long been known to offer significant benefit when supplied during tooth formation in childhood. More recently, topical exposure (that is, making fluoride available at the tooth surface) has been shown to provide benefits throughout life, even for older adults.
Water, rocks, soil, and living tissue all have naturally occurring fluoride as a constituent. Crystalline and carbonate minerals containing fluoride are common throughout the earthâ€™s near-surface crust. As water flows through the environment, fluoride and many other ions dissolve from sedimentary rock layers and soil into aquifers, streams, rivers, and oceans. Dissolved ions are essential for humans and all living things. Fluoride ions are absorbed directly from the water we drink
Fluoride ions taken systemically can become incorporated within bone and tooth tissue. Although bones and teeth have an organic matrix, it is their inorganic or crystalline hydroxyapatite composition that gives them their strength and hardness. Living human cells use available calcium and other minerals to form strong hydroxyapatite matrices. When fluoride ions are also available to the cells, an additional material called fluorapatite is formed. Integration of a small amount of fluorapatite within a hydroxyapatite matrix may produce a more durable substance than is found with hydroxyapatite alone.