There are certain aspects of our day that are so routine, so instinctual, we typically never slow down enough to question, “Why?” One example is toothpaste. We know why we brush with it (hello, healthy smile!), but who decided its default flavor is mint? Why not tarragon? Dill? Anything else in the herb family? For the answer to this question, we take into account history and the hits and misses of other flavor options.
Keeping it conventional
Yes, we’ve seen our share of toothpaste stunts. A company called Accoutrements once touted a bacon toothpaste as well as a cupcake flavored variety. These are no longer available in paste form but you can still get the idea (if you dare) with bacon floss. Aside from making for great gag gifts, clearly these out-of-the-box flavors didn’t catch on in the world of oral hygiene. However, if you want to find unexpected ways to use your toothpaste, these ideas are genius.
“People prefer mint to other ingredients because it has a high content of a key active ingredient: Menthol,” explains Catalina Lee, Colgate Worldwide Director, Global Flavors and Fragrances. “Menthol tricks the brain, sending a signal that creates a sensation that you have ice in your mouth. It’s a refreshing and clean taste. That’s why we prefer mint.”
In Colgate’s case, the brand began using North American peppermint and spearmint oil to flavor their toothpaste in the late 1800s. That’s a long time to make a case for the cool-tasting leaf.
A quick history lesson
According to Lee, it’s believed that the Egyptians were the first to use a teeth-cleaning paste around 500 B.C. This was long before the toothbrush as we know it today was invented (which, according to the Library of Congress, was introduced in 1938). Similarly, around 500 B.C., Ancient Greeks and Romans were also believed to have started using some form of toothpaste, but it was the Chinese who got creative with the stuff, using an array of different substances to freshen their mouths, like ginseng, herbal mints, and salt.
“Be thankful for flavoring in toothpaste,” says Lee. “Brushing is a boring routine, and flavor engages people in their brushing. And without mint or other flavors, today’s toothpaste would taste unpleasant, bitter, astringent, and metallic.”
Considering other options
Take a look on Amazon, or even a walk down a personal care aisle at Target, and you’ll notice there are way more flavor options than just mint. Toothpaste targeted towards kids, in particular, boast tastes like strawberry, bubblegum, watermelon, and chocolate. Still, it’s hard to beat that oh-so-fresh feeling of mint. We can’t quit it.
“Mint, spearmint, and wintergreen remain the lead flavors for oral care applications,” says Lee. “But consumers are open to other types of flavors.”
If you’re interested in taking a walk on the wild side, she notes that there are other flavor profiles to consider depending on your personal preference. For example, spice essential oils like cinnamon, clove, anise, and vanilla can offer a sense of warmth, though preferably the formula would include these ingredients at low levels as to not taste disruptive.
“Citrus oils provide a top note of flavor,” says Lee. “Lemon is fresh and citrusy, lime is fresh but pungent, and orange is sweet and fruity.”
It all boils down to what you like, what makes your mouth feel fresh, and what provides a feeling of confidence going into your day. If that’s mint, clearly you’re not alone. With such a long history as a frontrunner in the toothpaste field, it looks the instinctive ingredient really is tops.