Dental products may be commodities that find their way into everybody's shopping trolley, but a new survey by the Oral Health Foundation has found that only a quarter of us understand what ingredients they are made from and their purpose. The same survey also revealed that almost three in four of us do not always believe the product claims made on dental products.

When we glance down at the ingredients list of a typical toothpaste or mouthwash, it is easy to see why many of us may have some difficulties. Even common ingredients like water may sometimes be described in terms that not everyone will understand such as ‘aqua'.

As a result, we have decided to publish a glossary of common ingredients and their purposes, to help educate and inform consumers. With a long track record of educating the public on all aspects of oral health issues, we hope the new glossary of common ingredients will help more people to make an informed choice about which products to buy and how it can help their oral health.

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Aluminium Oxide (Alumina): A mild abrasive to clean teeth.

Aqua (Water): The main carrier for all ingredients. Helps dissolve other soluble ingredients.  Helps the mechanical process of cleaning teeth in mouthwashes.

Aroma (Fragrance / Odorant / Flavour): A chemical compound which adds odours to dental products.


Benzoic Acid (E210 / E211 / E212 / E213): A preservative and artificial flavouring.

Benzyl Alcohol: Solvent and preservative.


Calcium Carbonate: A mild abrasive to clean teeth.

Calcium Phosphate: Can help remineralisation of teeth. A mild abrasive for teeth.

Carrageenan: Binds and gels all the ingredients together.

Cellulose Gum (Carboxymethyl Cellulose): A thickening agent.

Cetylpyridinium Chloride: An antiseptic that kills bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Chlorahexadine: An antiseptic and disinfectant to reduce unpleasant odours and plaque formation.

CI 74160: Green colouring.

Citric Acid (E330): Preservative.

Cl 15985: Yellow colouring.

Cl 18965: Yellow colouring.

Cl 42051: Blue colouring.

Cl 42053: Green colouring.

Cl 42090: Blue colouring.

Cl 73360: Pink colouring.

Cl 77891: Pink colouring.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Derived from coconut oil): A thickening agent.


Disodium Phosphate: Stabilises dental products and controls acidity.


Ethanol (Alcohol): Increases impact of the flavour. Assists in the cleaning action. Enhances the fresh taste.  Adds to anti-bacterial activity.

Eucalyptol (Eucalyptus): A natural compound with flavouring and medicinal properties.


Fluoride: Helps prevent tooth decay.


Glycerine / Glycerin: Helps prevent products from drying out, acts as a thickener and provides sweetness.


Hydrated Silica: (Silica, Sand, Quartz): A clear abrasive to clean teeth.

Hydrogenated Caster Oil (Polyoxyl 40 / PEG-40): Stabiliser and emulsifier.

Hydroxyethylcellulose: A thickening agent.

Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose: A thickener and binding agent.


Limonene: A natural solvent which cleanses and flavours products.

Liniment: Has antiseptic properties to aid healing.


Menthol (Peppermint): Flavours products.

Methyl Salicylate: A natural plant extract with antiseptic properties. A flavouring used as an alternative to mint.

Methylparaben: Anti-fungal and preservative.

Mica (White Mica): Mild abrasive to clean teeth.


PEG-12 (Poly Ethylene Glycol): An emulsifier and foaming agent.

PEG-180 (Poly Ethylene Glycol): An emulsifier and foaming agent.

PEG-32 (Poly Ethylene Glycol): An emulsifier and foaming agent.

PEG-40 (Poly Ethylene Glycol / Hydrogenated Caster Oil): An emulsifier and foaming agent.

PEG-6  (Poly Ethylene Glycol): An emulsifier and foaming agent.

Pentasodium Triphosphate: Regulates acidity of the product.

Poloxamer 407: Helps to dissolve oils.

Polyoxyethylene Fatty Acid Esters: Foaming agent which increases cleansing power.

Polysorbate 20: Stabilises dental products.

Potassium Nitrate (Saltpetre): Helps reduce the sensitivity of teeth.

Potassium Sorbate (E202): Preservative.

Propylene Glycol: Helps prevent products from drying out, acts as a thickener and provides sweetness.

Propylene Glycol Alginate: Absorbs water to thicken and emulsify.

Propylparaben: A preservative and flavouring.

PVM/MS Copolymer: Thickens, binds and acts as a foaming agent.

PVP (Poly Vinyl Pyrrolidone): Thickener and stabiliser.

Pyrophosphates: Helps prevent the formation of tartar.


Saccharin: An artificial sweetener which enhances the flavour of ingredients like mint, cinnamon and other flavourings.

Silica (Silicon Dioxide): A mild abrasive to clean teeth.

Silicon Dioxide (Silica, Sand, Quartz): A mild abrasive to clean teeth.

Sodium Benzoate (Salt): Preservative.

Sodium Carboxymethycellulose: Binds and gels all the ingredients together.

Sodium Fluoride: Helps prevent tooth decay.

Sodium Hexafluorosilicate: Helps prevent tooth decay.

Sodium Hydroxide: A detergent which dissolves oils.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS): Foaming agent which increases cleansing power.

Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate (Coconut Oil): A cleanser and thickening agent.

Sodium Monofluorophosphate: Helps prevent tooth decay.

Sodium Perborate (PBS): Anti-septic used to treat gingivitis and other kinds of gingival inflammation.

Sodium Phosphate (Salt of Sodium / Phosphoric Acid): Preservative.

Sodium Saccharin: An artificial sweetener.

Sorbitol: Helps prevent products from drying out, acts as a thickener and provides sweetness.

Strontium Salt: Helps reduce the sensitivity of teeth.

Sucralose (E955): An artificial sweetener.


Tetrapotassium Pyrophosphate / Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate: A thickening agent and cleanser that also has tartar control properties.

Thymol (Thyme): Added for its natural antiseptic properties.

Titanium Dioxide (E171): A thickening agent and colourant.

Triclosan: Preservative and anti-bacterial agent.

Trisodium Phosphate (E339): Stain remover and de-greaser.


Xanthan Gum: A thickening agent.

Xylitol: A naturally occurring sugar substitute which does not cause dental decay.


Zinc Chloride: A mild disinfectant to soothe minor mouth irritations.

Zinc Citrate: Helps prevent the build-up of plaque.