Polishing the Pearls

Twice a day, my toothpaste tube and I do battle.  When I take the tube out of the medicine cabinet and realize there’s only a little bit left, I can see it smirking as if to say, “You’re not getting any more out of ME!”  Yeah, right.  I just flatten it from one end to the other (I recommend a hairbrush here), forcing every last bit of paste to gather at the top, ready to launch.  Then I take off the cap and squeeze like crazy.  It’s a good workout for the hands, and a mindless challenge to extend the life of your toothpaste.

Speaking of toothpaste – yep, that’s my topic today – here’s a really good trivia question.  In the Roald Dahl classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, what did Charlie’s dad do for a living?  He screwed the caps onto toothpaste tubes… before machines were invented to do the job for him.  (He also died before the first paragraph and was never part of the story, so it’s a little weird I remember that bit.  But I digress.)

Quick, name the first ingredient you think of in toothpaste.  Flouride?  Not a bad guess, but did you know fluoride makes up only a tenth of a percent of toothpaste?  That’s like a pinprick on the tip of your finger.  Flouride is potent, my friends.  Good for healthy enamel but only in itty-bitty doses.  Keep those chemicals close, but not too close.

Was your first ingredient surfactants?  A surfactant is basically a “foaming agent”, which helps distribute the paste around the inside of your mouth, which translates to better cleaning.  Surfactants remind me of those animated scrubbing bubbles you’d see in TV commercials, whirling around the bathtub surface.  You also find them in shampoos and conditioners.  Without surfactants, most of the hairs on your head would get clean and conditioned, but others would be left high and dry.

“Minty fresh!”

How about flavorants – you know, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen, or cinnamon?  If flavorants were the first ingredient you thought about with toothpaste, go directly to Jail (i.e. do not pass GO, do not collect $200).  Flavorants do zilch for your teeth.  They just make brushing a more pleasant experience and fool you into thinking you have a fresher mouth when you’re done.  You might as well chew gum.  The sugarless kind, that is.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase.  The primary ingredient in toothpaste is abrasives (and if this was your answer, you win a free dental drill).  Abrasives make up 50% of what’s inside the toothpaste tube.  They’re “designed to help remove plaque” (remember that phrase).  Think of abrasive-laden toothpaste as liquid sandpaper.  Abrasives are the reason you don’t want to swallow toothpaste.  And don’t brush too hard either.  With enough pressure, these bad boys would be happy to remove your enamel.

Toothpaste also has grit

I could list even more toothpaste ingredients (ex. antibacterial agents, whiteners, re-mineralizers), but let’s just agree: there’s a big, diverse party going on inside the tube.  Now for the bad news.  Toothpaste has no significant impact on the reduction of plaque – so says certain clinical studies. That’s why abrasives are described as “designed to help remove”.  That’s a sneaky way of saying they just keep things in check until your next appointment with the dentist.  Sorry (Charlie), no amount of brushing can replace those nasty power tools your hygienist has so much fun using.

For all my talk about toothpaste ingredients, the brand I use has very few.  Earthpaste (“Amazingly Effective!”) has no fluoride, no foaming agents, and almost no flavor.  In fact, Earthpaste has only four ingredients – water, clay, salt, and essential oils.  It’s like brushing with mud.  Wait, it IS brushing with mud!  Just as effective, without the chemicals (subtle plug).  You’ll find it on Amazon.

So all this talk about toothpaste may be important, but so is getting every last bit out of the tube.  And there may finally be a solution to that battle.  The very smart peeps at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an edible product called LiquiGlide.  It’s invisible (which okay, is a little disturbing), and it’s designed to coat the inside of a container so the contents will completely empty with just gravitational pull.  Can you imagine?  No more flattening, squeezing, or hand workouts.  Just upend the tube and 100% of the product comes pouring out.  Get-your-money’s-worth people like me silently rejoice.

LiquiGlide’s proof is in the pudding, er – ketchup.  No more smacking or shaking the bottle.  No more “An-ti-ci-pay-yay-tion” (for those of you who remember the 1970s Heinz jingle).  Our future ketchup bottles and toothpaste tubes will be transparent – and empty – by the time they head to the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, I’d have to give up my Earthpaste and move to Europe if I want to experience the benefits of LiquiGlide.  (The company has no immediate plans to sell its products in North America).  That’s not gonna happen, so until further notice you’ll find me in the bathroom, doing battle with my toothpaste tube.  It’s not so much about getting my teeth clean.  It’s about getting my money’s worth.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “How MIT could help you pour ketchup”, the CNN.com article, “Colgate’s new toothpaste tube…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

9 thoughts on “Polishing the Pearls

  1. Wow, I never looked at the ingredients in toothpaste AND have never heard of Earthpaste. How in the world did you learn about that? I did buy Hello toothpaste that has activated charcoal in it. Your teeth are black while you are brushing… does it help whiten teeth? I don’t know, but I use it off and on. I guess I need to use it every day to see results.

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  2. I found Earthpaste because I was looking for toothpaste without glycerol. Almost all brands use glycerol to maintain texture, but whether ingesting the chemical is a good thing or not is up for debate. Given toothpaste is a minor player in oral hygiene (you can even brush with baking soda), I switched to Earthpaste. Took some getting used to but “mud” it works for me. Activated charcoal, that would be a stretch.

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  3. This was an interest post Dave. I was intrigued with the factoid about fluoride because, as a child in Canada, my dentist painted my teeth with a fluoride polish at least once a year. It looked and smelled like nail polish and I remember my teeth were propped up with cotton pillars to allow the teeth to dry more quickly. It had an icky taste as well. I used to use Pearl Drops Tooth Polish for years but switched to plain old baking soda instead in addition to toothpaste.

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  4. Pearl Drops! Now there’s a throwback. Seem to recall the commercials being more about how good your teeth and mouth felt, versus any real benefit to dental hygiene. No matter, I know they sold a ton of the stuff. I had my share of fluoride treatments as well. Our kids had sealants, which seem to be beneficial. None of them have had more than a cavity or two.

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  5. Hi Ruth. My toiletries have come a long way since a childhood of Crest toothpaste and Dial soap. Each has evolved to healthy ingredients I feel comfortable putting on/in my body. But this post started with the article about LiquiGlide, followed by more information about toothpaste than I ever knew (thanks, Wikipedia). You’re right – there are other products I use that could inspire future posts.

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  6. I would be happy with a return to old fashioned toothpaste tunes made of metal. When you flattened and folded them they stayed flattened and folded. The modern plastic ones bounce back some and let the contents start working their way back to the wrong end.

    I knew about the abrasive factor and have used toothpaste as a polishing agent more than once when nothing else has been handy. I once asked a druggist what was the most abrasive toothpaste in his store. He suggested Ultra Bright.

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    1. I forgot about the metal toothpaste tubes, J.P. It’s been too long. You’re right tho’, those would’ve held their shape much better than today’s plastic versions. Toothpaste as a polishing agent? Wow. Much like Coke to remove rust (although that one remains an urban legend until proven).

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