So, yeah, we make toothpaste. A lot of it. As someone who works in a manufacturing environment myself, I'm always fascinated to get a peek into how other products are made. Perhaps you're curious about toothpaste?

Proof: Here's a jar of the red toothpaste stripe, a rare but critical ingredient to the Simpson's Forget-Me-Shot. Hopefully no one points out that post-it notes are criminal in this industry.

EDIT: This has been fun, hopefully you learned something! Feel free to message me with other questions.

Comments: 138 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

frivolousdinosaur58 karma

Are these "dentists" recommending all the different brands really dentists?

PasteGuy115 karma

Well, yes, but they're just recommending the brand they know the best. In most cases there's no meaningful difference in toothpaste formulas. There are instances where we sell one formulation with multiple names/packaging. It's just a marketing game.

frivolousdinosaur23 karma

Thanks for the response! What country are you in and does anyone at your workplace have bad breath?

PasteGuy72 karma

I've worked at both UK and US factories, currently in UK, so naturally, everyone has bad breath. We probably have one of the best smelling manufacturing sites on the planet though.

valforlora20 karma

There are instances where we sell one formulation with multiple names/packaging.

What? Is that really a thing? Is that allowed?

PasteGuy87 karma

Sure, it's a thing. We'll put the exact same formula of toothpaste into a variety of different packaging with slightly different names.

Toothpaste companies will even take their exact formulas and fill them into store-brand tubes. People assume these are lower quality or using cheaper ingredients, but they're the exact same stuff. Lots of industries do this.

arnoldone36 karma

What kind of magic do you guys use that makes the toothpaste always come out with the separate color stripes?

PasteGuy78 karma

It looks something like this on the inside. Each color paste is coming from a different source in the plant, and they meet at a nozzle that is carefully designed to shoot the paste into the tube in the right ratio/angles to give this finished look.

RedMatter312 karma

I have tried to mix the stripes inside the tube by squeezing it, but it still came out right. Or does that not work?

PasteGuy9 karma

You basically have to manhandle the tube to get the stripes so start merging together, like repeatedly squeeze the top and bottom 50 times.

1800871265335 karma

does everyone have lunch together? is there a breakroom? how's the morale of the workers? yall get along alright?

PasteGuy42 karma

There is a big breakroom. Lunch is taken in shifts so that there are always enough people still on the floor to keep the process going. Our sites operate 24/7! The morale goes up and down just like any workplace, thought everyone gets along pretty well.

The_Mighty_T30 karma

When I was a small child my dad had me totally convinced that toothpaste was made in factories filled with impoverished Asian children who chewed mint gum until it was soft and paste-like, at which point it would be packaged into tubes and shipped to Canada. This resulted in me chewing the same piece of gum for three weeks. Every night I set it on a small plate by by bedside table, and come next morning would begin chewing it again in an effort to help the family economize by making my own toothpaste. My mother eventually found the lump of gum and threw it away before I could complete my experiment.

My question for you is, was it the technique I was using that turned my gum to flavourless rubber instead of toothpaste? As this was 24 years ago I can't remember the specifics but I suspect it was sort of your standard up/down mastication. Do your impoverished Asian children have better dentition than your average North American child? Or is the gum base we have here just not conducive to great home-made toothpaste?

PasteGuy10 karma

Every toothpaste manufacturing site that I know of is in a developed country with pretty highly skilled labor. Again the industry is regulated in one way or another by the FDA/MHRA or local equivalent.

cerkies4lyf30 karma

What would happen if you drank all that red shit?

PasteGuy49 karma

The only dangerous ingredient is fluoride. There's probably enough in that jar to get someone pretty sick. Can't say we've tested that. The general assumption is you'll only swallow about 10% of what you brush with, 3x a day.

the_marathonian22 karma

Are whitening toothpastes really any different from regular?

PasteGuy38 karma

They do have ingredients that are intended to whiten, yes. Some brands just use "abrasives" which are basically fine sand in the paste, but clinical trials are used to prove the whitening claims. Other brands use peroxide, a bleaching agent, which certainly will provide whitening that a regular toothpaste won't.

MrPopo917 karma

What's your favorite toothpaste flavor? What's the worst flavor you have tried?

PasteGuy36 karma

My personal favorites are the sort of "sweet" mint flavors. Pronamel has one that I think is called "Mint Essence." It's so hard to tell from a company's branding what on earth the paste is going to taste like.

I can't think of one that's really bad. Our children's toothpastes are pretty bizarre, like a minty banana apple flavor, but somehow even that tastes fine. Personally I don't care for the ones that have an extremely strong mint flavor.

Ula_St-James17 karma

Why have solid toothpaste tabs only just become available (or were they around before but nobody really used them)? Do they work?

What ingredients in toothpaste should we be be aware of, aside from fluoride? What ingredients are essential in toothpaste for extra sensitive teeth/should a person look for?

PasteGuy27 karma

I've never heard of toothpaste tabs, no clue. Do you brush with them or just chew? If there's no brushing involved, I really doubt they work well, aside from just freshening breath.

Peroxide is one ingredient to be aware of -- it's a bleaching agent that can cause sensitivity. Otherwise there's really nothing of note in your tube.

The most common ingredient for antisensitivity is potassium, usually in the form of potassium nitrate. It'll be listed right below fluoride as an active ingredient in the paste (at least in North America). It's basically in every antisensitivity toothpaste. Some companies are trying other ingredients like tin and zinc which supposedly work just as well, but use a slightly different mechanism than potassium.

MeridianOne15 karma

Why do you think the toothpaste industry thought microbeads in toothpaste was a good idea?

PasteGuy31 karma

The microbeads were mostly in powdered dyes. Really, the microbeads were a benefit for the dye companies -- the beads help the powder flow more smoothly and make the manufacturing process easier. Honestly I don't think toothpaste companies cared whether or not there were microbeads, their presence in some toothpastes was just a consequence of working with these dye suppliers. When regulations came out banning microbeads, it was just a matter of identifying formulas with these microbead-containing dyes and replacing them with some other dye. In my company's case, it was only a small number of our products.

There's some idea floating around that toothpaste companies are pouring buckets of microbeads into their paste for some added benefit. That's just not the case at all. There are much cheaper and more sensible ways to put abrasives in toothpaste!

EDIT: Googling around a bit, some companies (Crest for example) may have put microbeads in a couple products just for sort of "decorative" purposes like in this photo, but that's not how most manufacturers were using them. In fact, microbeads were causing problems at a number of manufacturing sites because they left visible specs in pastes that we wanted to be completely smooth/consistent.

chieflong10 karma

I use Rembrandt D with the green label. What's your opinion on that?

PasteGuy28 karma

It's fine. Rembrandt uses peroxide for whitening, which essentially bleaches your teeth. The alternative is using abrasives which sorta rub away stains.

Without having actually looked at clinical studies, my guess is that peroxide is more slightly more effective -- but if you're brushing every day, they're all going to have basically the same effect. The downside is peroxide can cause sensitivity and irritation, so if sensitivity is a problem for you, this type of toothpaste isn't ideal.

cdacda009 karma

What are some future developments that the industry (or you specifically) are in the midst of trying to solve or reach? Do you think toothpaste will have innovative surges that redefine the product, or do you sense that there is a general plateau in product development for a while?

PasteGuy16 karma

When you work at a manufacturing site, you aren't working on the development of new products or anything game-changing like that. The goal is to keep the manufacturing process running while continually look for ways to make it a bit more consistent, a bit more efficient, a bit more cost effective, etc.

As far as the industry, I'd say its plateaued for quite a while. The introduction of antisensitvity ingredients was pretty big, but otherwise toothpaste hasn't changed much. The solution everyone is looking for is some compound that will actually repair/restore your enamel, or prompt your body to restore enamel. Everything we do now is really just fighting the symptoms of your enamel wearing away. At the same time there's not a ton of incentive ($$) for R&D in this area. Toothpaste is a very low margin business. That money/effort is better spent in high margin products like pharmaceuticals.

shooshx6 karma

What about "Sensodyne repair and protect"

And this mouth wash -
http://www.biorepair.it/flex/tmp/imgResized/T-fc9b8a674e200c4b04e7088afa5e5ecb-487x520.png

PasteGuy6 karma

Seosodyne Repair and Protect is one example -- a compound that may actually restore enamel. They're using something called NovaMin, a fancy name for a compound that's actually pretty simple/cheap which makes it a good fit. NovaMin didn't make it into US markets due to regulatory obstacles, though my guess is Sensodyne/GSK is working on that. Making the label claim that the toothpaste restores enamel will really challenge the way toothpaste is currently registered/regulated by the FDA whereas the MHRA in the EU is very relaxed on toothpaste.

rainslaughter8 karma

How accurate is this portrayal of a toothpaste factory from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

I know it probably isn't at all aha but that's the first thing I thought of when I read the title!

PasteGuy25 karma

Imagine that line of tubes moving 20x faster, and there are 10 lines pushing out tubes!

Also the paste is filled from the bottom of the tube and then sealed. The cap is on from the very beginning of the process and never removed! You can imagine trying to push paste through that tiny hole would be a disaster.

A_Blunt_Object7 karma

[deleted]

PasteGuy4 karma

The vast majority are filled perfectly, no spillage. Issues usually arise when there's a defect with the tube. The filling machine doesn't really care and just proceeds to fill anyway, and it can get messy.

There's really only waste when we have to throw away toothpaste for silly regulatory reasons. In those cases, the toothpaste is incinerated. Unfortunately even if the defect is minor, we typically can't donate it for legal reasons.

qngff5 karma

What led you into this career field?

PasteGuy13 karma

I've been working for years in the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry, which is something I'm passionate about. Toothpaste is actually considered and regulated as a pharmaceutical in some markets, including the US, so there are pharma giants who own toothpaste brands. That's how I got into it.

Byundai5 karma

Do you have places where you all routinely brush your teeth during the work day?

PasteGuy9 karma

Hah. We do not. We're not supposed to be taking product from the plant either. There are giveaways sometime where we get free toothpaste but otherwise we have to buy it at the store just like everyone else.

Byundai5 karma

Huh. Would've figured that they would have considered you guys "free" testers.

Does your company try out new formulas on a regular basis?

PasteGuy9 karma

R&D groups do fairly regularly try new formulas -- but they're basically mixing toothpaste up in 1-gallon buckets. When they find something they think will sell, either because Marketing has identified some need or because they've added some new ingredient/feature they think customers will like, it's quite a long process before the formulas is being mixed in the 2500 gallon tanks at the manufacturing site.

jytang19955 karma

Why don't we have cooler flavors beyond some variation of mint? Like what if I don't want to be zesty and minty at night? What if I want a mellow lavender flavor? Why can't we have strawberries and creams? Why can't we have good things?

PasteGuy5 karma

I think this has been tried here and there. It just doesn't sell well. It's very easy to add a different flavor but it's not something the market in general wants.

PENDRAGON235 karma

I watched one of those 'how it's made' type of shows that was showing a toothpaste factory and I noticed in that show that it seemed that one factory was kicking out toothpastes not only for different brand names but for brands were from competing parent companies (as in, not just various brands owned by P&G or something). Is that actually the case?

PasteGuy16 karma

That's certainly possible. If you were to go to a true P&G owned manufacturing site, it's very unlikely you'll see anything other than Crest (though they may be manufacturing a store brand as well). These companies are competing for market share; toothpaste is simple enough to make and so low margin that it doesn't make a lot of sense to manufacture for another brand (whereas pharmaceutical companies do this with drugs quite often).

However, contract manufacturers certainly could be making toothpaste for multiple brands. It's usually contract manufacturers that end up on shows like "How it's Made."

HandleThe2th3 karma

What happens if you use expired toothpaste?

PasteGuy7 karma

Nothing. Most toothpaste expires in two years, and that just means we're not guaranteeing the quality of the product after that time. The color could fade/merge a bit, the paste will start to separate into a solid and liquid layer, etc. Minor changes in properties. It'll look ugly on your toothbrush but it's still toothpaste. Because of the separation that occurs, we can't guarantee any longer that it meets the fluoride/potassium claim on the label.

Oh, and some of the flavors degrade, so they just won't smell quite as minty.

Fytt3 karma

Tooth pastes with colors, red and blue ect... are they just dyed a different color or are they different?

PasteGuy3 karma

There are some really minor difference that give the "core" paste a bit more structure/thickness.

Jim1053 karma

I have forgotten toothpaste and tooth brush on a cabin trip. Ended up using Jack Daniels to rinse my teeth.

What alcohol do you recommend for rinsing teeth incase a person forgets tooth brush and tooth paste?

PasteGuy2 karma

Grain alcohol

rosiohead2 karma

When do you think robots will replace you?

Have you started planning the trip to the Chocolate Factory with your grandson yet?

PasteGuy3 karma

It's a long way out. We automate everything we can and use robots where it's practical, but robots are expensive and toothpaste doesn't generate a ton of profit to invest in that sort of technology.

NorthStarZero2 karma

Who makes your production equipment, and how old is it?

When I see shows like "How It's Made" I always wonder about the people who make these super specialized machines. They have to be 1-offs (or near to it) because how many toothpaste plants can you build?

PasteGuy4 karma

Much of our equipment is 10+ years old. It's made by a number of different engineering companies. You'd be surprised by how flexible engineering companies are -- they can make just about anything clients ask for (for the right price).

amps2112 karma

Have you ever seen companies test other flavors? Toothpaste industry seems to have stalled at mint and or cinnamon. I feel there is niche market for crazy flavors. Pumpkin, bubble gum, chai latte gingerbread, vanilla for example.

PasteGuy3 karma

Not profitable. Niche markets work when your product has high margins. Toothpaste doesn't. With a low margin product, all companies are concerned with is pushing volume and reducing costs.

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

PasteGuy2 karma

Yes.

Leaveleague1 karma

Are tab color bottom of the toothpaste mean organic,chemical,mixed....? Depending on the color

PasteGuy2 karma

The tabs on the bottom of the tube are likely some sort of code/marker that is useful for the manufacturer and has no relevance to you. For example it could let them know which specific machine or production line filled the tube.

Leaveleague1 karma

oh im guessing thats a myth...oh man i've been buying blue tab paste cuz it mean't natural with chemical paste

PasteGuy6 karma

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "natural" vs "chemical," nature is full of chemicals!