By now you’re probably old enough to accept that brushing your teeth twice a day is something we all just have to do. After all, parents and dentists must have our best interests at heart. But what about TV commercials?

However fancy new toothpastes being advertised in TV channels seem, all of them have essentially the same components. Truth is, most of the cleaning would take place with just the mechanical movement of your toothbrush. Toothpaste just makes the whole process a little better, faster, and nicer tasting.

Grab your tube of toothpaste at home and look at the ‘Ingredients’ list. Almost all the chemical names you’re looking at  will fall into one of these categories:

Abrasives: Abrasives give toothpaste a gritty texture. If the paste was too smooth, then there would be too little friction to scrape off the plaque, dirt and the food remnants. Silica (which sand is made out of) and calcium carbonate (which chalk is made out of) are common abrasives. Abrasives are usually not harsh enough to harm tooth enamel which is about as hard as steel. But if your toothpaste uses a very harsh abrasive it can make your gums over-sensitive.

Surfectants: Compounds like sodium lauryl sulphate act as detergents, loosening the plaque and food pieces on teeth so that it can easily be brushed away.

Enamel strengthener: Flouride compounds like sodium monoflourosulphate prevent tooth decay by preventing bacteria from producing acids which can erode enamel.

Moisturisers: Toothpastes also contain some compounds like sorbitol and polyethylene glycol which prevent it from drying into powder.

Foaming: Foaming agents like cocamidopropyl betaine make sure the paste is distributed evenly in the mouth while brushing and makes it easier to rinse off.

Sweeteners and flavours: If you’re wondering how all these chemicals can possibly not taste foul then you have artificial sweeteners like sodium saccharin to thank.

Others: I found a few other compound names in my toothpaste box which I needed the Internet to understand the uses of. Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose is a thickening agent for creamy toothpastes.

Similarly, carbamide peroxide acts as a bleaching agent causing your teeth to whiten. Too much bleaching agent is dangerous, however, owing to the peroxide content. White toothpastes may contain titanium dioxide which gives it a brilliant white colour.

Write to  nandita.j@thehindu.co.in  if you find any other compounds in your toothpaste’s ingredient list!