It’s a lesson we learned as kids – brush your teeth every day to help maintain oral health and have minty fresh breath – but what ingredients are actually inside your tube of toothpaste?

Dentists recommend brushing our teeth twice a day, and while most ingredients in toothpaste promote healthy teeth there are others that could be dangerous.

So what exactly is in the toothpaste we use every day?

For starters, check to see if you have an older tube of Colgate Total in your bathroom. Look at the ingredients and if it contains an ingredient called triclosan -- toss it in the trash. Triclosan is an antibacterial that may help prevent gingivitis but also may have some nasty side effects. 

These side effects can include “endocrine disruption, as well as impact on immunity, and contribute to antibiotic resistance,” said Consumer Reports expert Tunde Akinleye. 

It was banned from hand soaps and body washes in 2017, and while it’s still technically allowed in toothpastes, it essentially has disappeared from the market. Colgate’s New Total SF toothpaste doesn’t contain any triclosan.

What ingredients do experts say should be in your toothpaste?

“The first thing people should look for in toothpaste is fluoride. Fluoride will help decrease tooth decay,” said dentist Michael Schwarz. 

Other important ingredients include baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, which may help reduce plaque. Hydrogen peroxide can act as a whitener, but some experts’ caution it’s not concentrated enough or on your teeth long enough to make a significant difference.

Calcium carbonate and modified silica are abrasives that are used to help remove food debris and surface stains. If you suffer from hot or cold tooth sensitivity, you might use toothpaste with desensitizers. When used regularly ingredients such as sodium citrate, casein phosphopeptide, and potassium nitrate may help relieve sensitivity.

There’s also sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS which creates foam to help circulate the toothpaste into the spaces between teeth.

How will you know what toothpaste is best for you and your family?

“I usually say the one you won’t mind using,” said Schwarz. 

Experts also have a warning for all dog lovers: some toothpastes contain the ingredient xylitol. A few small studies suggest that when paired with fluoride, it could prevent cavities better than fluoride alone, but keep in mind as xylitol is very dangerous for dogs. 

Experts recommend brushing teeth for about three-and-a-half minutes for best results, and flossing thoroughly every day so you can remove harmful bacteria and plaque. While brushing your teeth is important, so is making sure it’s done properly. Use a soft bristle brush and brush gently in small circular motions. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks and go for regular dental checkups.