What does your toothpaste have in common with the tannins in red grapes, certain berries, citrus fruit skins and vinegar?
They all cause a dry or puckering mouth feel. This can range from sour or bitter to sharply caustic. These chemicals are often referred to as an astringent.
Besides ingredients to clean our teeth and freshen our breath, an astringent is often added to toothpaste. Over the years we’ve come to associate the resulting feeling in our mouth with being clean.
An astringent is a chemical that shrinks or constricts tissues. In this case, in our mouth. It tends to draw tissues together, restricting the flow of blood. Tannins, like those in certain red wines or tea, bind some of the proteins in our saliva. As it does, it produces a dry, “puckering” sensation in our mouth.
The three most common flavourings, which can also act as astringents, are peppermint, spearmint and wintergreen. Salt is added to some toothpastes for an astringent effect. And grain alcohol, used in most mouthwashes, similarly irritates delicate gum tissue. This produces a mild astringent effect we associate with cleanliness.
Is it possible that the astringents used in toothpaste are causing many of us to brush our teeth too quickly? Because our mouth “feels” clean after just a few moments of brushing? Perhaps.
Toothpaste manufacturers want us to believe that their particular toothpaste can give us whiter and cleaner teeth. Not to mention fresh breath, fight plaque and prevent gingivitis.
But what they neglect to tell us is that far more important than what we put on our toothbrush, is what we do with it! Using the correct brushing action is essential.
As a result, many of us have an unrealistic expectation about what our toothpaste can do. Remember, the primary aim of the toothpaste manufacturer is to make your mouth feel a certain way. And we connect that feeling with our teeth being clean and our breath fresh.
The truth is, our dental health is far more dependent on our diet than what we put on our toothbrush.