What Makes Toothpaste Sweet?
Modern commercially available toothpastes are made without sugar sweeteners for obvious reasons. The link between sugar and cavity development is well established. However, the ingredients in toothpaste, while beneficial to tooth health, are far from pleasant tasting without a little help. Consequently, toothpaste manufacturers still sweeten and flavor their products to make them easier to use on a daily basis.
Manufacturers use a variety of non-nutritive sweeteners to make toothpaste more palatable. Not all non-nutritive sweeteners are created equal, however. While you might look to see if there’s fluoride in a toothpaste, more people than not skip over the sweetening ingredients without much thought. It’s worth taking a minute to see what’s sweetening your toothpaste to see if you could be getting a bigger benefit from your toothpaste. Grab your tube and read on to find out what makes toothpaste sweet.
Sodium saccharin is a chemical derived from coal tar. It is one of five artificial sweeteners approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. You may remember there was concern about saccharin’s safety, but early studies that linked it to cancer in rats were reexamined and found not to translate to cancer risk in humans.
Sodium saccharin is extremely sweet, so small amounts make toothpaste palatable and better tasting. Still, sodium saccharin is not linked to any benefits for oral health, so its only function in a toothpaste is to improve flavor.
Sorbitol is classified as a sugar alcohol, a type of substance that contains neither sugar or alcohol. Sorbitol occurs in small amounts in certain fruits, particularly apples and peaches. However, the sorbitol in commercial products almost always is made from corn syrup.
Sorbitol is less sweet than table sugar, and it’s often used in combination with another sweetener in toothpastes. The bacteria most commonly studied for tooth decay, S. Mutans, can use sorbitol for energy, as can your body, so it’s not considered a non-nutritive sweetener like most sugar alcohols. It is known to have a laxative effect in larger amounts than used for brushing teeth. Sorbitol also has no benefit for tooth health and is used exclusively to improve the taste of toothpastes.
Xylitol is a sweetener that occurs in certain fruits and vegetables, especially corn and birch trees. It also is a non-nutritive sweetener, meaning it does not get used by the body for energy and generally does not raise blood sugar levels.
Xylitol is about as sweet as regular table sugar and has been shown in numerous studies to help prevent the formation of dental caries. The bacteria associated with caries disease cannot use xylitol for energy, and xylitol can help correct dry mouth, increasing saliva for additional tooth health benefits.
How to Choose the Right Toothpaste Sweetener
When choosing a toothpaste, a toothpaste sweetened with xylitol (all CariFree tooth gels use xylitol) offers additional benefits beyond one sweetened with sodium saccharin or sorbitol. If you’re paying for all the ingredients in your toothpaste, why not insist that as many of them as possible are providing you with additional benefits?