Toothpaste marketing

The toothpaste market is not as clean as you might think.
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01.Cleaning up


We've looked at 17 toothpastes and spoken to dental experts to find out if there's any truth to the marketing claims.

Walking down the dental care aisle in the supermarket, consumers must wade through “advanced formulas”, “multiaction” pastes, “extreme-clean” products and even “micro-cleaning crystals” when deciding what to buy. Toothpaste, the ubiquitous daily essential, is an example of market segmentation at its most successful.

Although just two companies, Colgate Palmolive and GlaxoSmithKline, control 92% of the Australian toothpaste market, there are certainly more than two products on the shelves. As if regular toothpaste wasn’t cleaning teeth sufficiently, we now have whitening, tartar control, sensitive and enamel-lock toothpastes as well as products tailored to children.

“As a dentist, I’m quite amazed when I go through the supermarket aisle and look at just how many toothpastes are on the shelf,” says Dr Peter Alldritt, chairman of the Oral Health Committee at the Australian Dental Association (ADA). “How do people choose?”

To help you understand what you should look for in a toothpaste, CHOICE spoke with dental experts and looked at 17 toothpastes to find out if the marketing hype matches up with what the experts say we really need.

For more information about Dental care, see Beauty and personal care.

What is toothpaste made from?

From pulverised bones and crushed oyster shells to the modern-day pearly white paste, the role of toothpaste has always been to remove plaque and prevent cavities. Professor Mike Morgan, Head of Population Oral Health and Periodontics at Melbourne University, says most toothpastes contain essentially the same ingredients and believes very few in the marketplace would actually fail to perform these two tasks.

Toothpaste has two key ingredients, fluoride and a mild abrasive, bound together with thickeners, sweeteners, stabilisers and flavours. While the abrasives can vary – such as calcium carbonate and hydrated silica – they fulfil the same purpose: to polish your teeth and dislodge particles of food caught between them. 

With fluoride and abrasives found in most toothpaste, brands are constantly searching for a point of difference to market their products. Sensitive toothpaste is one valid point of difference, but experts we spoke to say many others may not deliver the results their marketing promises.

Control, protect and mislead

Tartar is the build-up of hardened plaque that can lead to gum disease. Although regular brushing can minimise its build-up, tartar can only be properly removed by a dentist. Of the toothpastes we looked at, almost all contain a tartar suspension agent – the most common being pyrophosphates and xanthan gum – designed to suspend tartar particles in saliva and prevent them from clinging to teeth. Although only three mention tartar control on their packaging, Morgan says most toothpastes will reduce the amount of tartar build-up if used in conjunction with a good toothbrush and regular brushing.

Enamel is the outer coating of the tooth. Although generally much harder than the inner dentine, it can be worn down by excessive scrubbing or acidic foods. Colgate Sensitive Enamel Protect and Macleans Advanced both claim to protect teeth enamel, but according to Alldritt these claims may be a classic example of market trickery. “The best protection for enamel is fluoride,” he says. “Enamel is a fluoride, and when exposed to the fluoride in toothpaste, it is like putting a coat of armour on it.” The ADA recommends a certain level of fluoride in regular adult toothpaste and the Macleans enamel-lock toothpaste did not contain any more fluoride than Colgate’s regular toothpaste.

Toothpastes reviewed

  • Coles Smart Buy Toothpaste 105g
  • Coles Whitening Toothpaste with Fluoride 140g
  • Colgate Advanced Whitening Micro Cleansing Crystals 110g 
  • Colgate Advanced Whitening Tartar Control with Micro Cleansing Crystals 120g 
  • Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection 175g
  • Colgate My First* 45g 
  • Colgate Sensitive Enamel Protect plus Whitening 110g
  • Colgate Sensitive Multi Protection 110g 
  • Colgate Spiderman* 110g
  • Macleans Advanced Enamel Lock Formula 170g 
  • Macleans Big Teeth* 63g
  • Macleans Extreme Clean Whitening 170g
  • Macleans Milk Teeth* 63g 
  • Sensodyne Pronamel Gentle Whitening 110g 
  • Sensodyne Repair and Protect 100g 
  • White Glo Extra Strength Whitening Toothpaste (Coffee & Tea Drinkers Formula) 150g 
  • Woolworths Home Brand Toothpaste 150g 
* Children's products



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