Why is mint the premier flavour for dental hygiene?
March 16, 2005 11:49 PM   Subscribe

A question from the young 'un I couldn't answer. There are lots of clean crisp flavours out there: why are toothpaste, floss and other dental/oral products stereotypically mint-flavoured, and not, say, clove or cinnamon? Is it simple popularity, or is there a technical reason?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
clean crisp flavors, you say? I'd say popularity, and the resulting availability of mass quantities of flavoring ingredients.
posted by pmbuko at 12:03 AM on March 17, 2005

I know from some focus groups I saw in undergrad on mouthwash (far too many years ago) that the mint-based flavor seems to be tied mentally to clean and refreshment, partially due to culture, partially to the physical "cool mouth" feel. Cinnamon has been used, but it doesn't "spread cool" in a way that gives the rinser the feeling of projecting fresh breath to those he/she talks to/is intimate with.

And I know from my personal search for non-mint toothpaste that flavors like bubblegum, very berry blast, even Tom's of Maine strawberry banana don't seem to cover up the weird taste of toothpaste like mint does. (Even if mint makes me gag)
posted by Gucky at 12:09 AM on March 17, 2005

Sounds like Gucky has it, though I also find that mint is one of the very few flavours that totally cleanses the palate (for me anyway), which is advantagous for many dental products. By "cleanses the palate" I mean a flavour that is 1) strong enough to override (and so remove) all food aftertastes without those flavours altering the mint flavour, 2) incompatible with (drastically alters) most food flavours, therefore makes further eating revolting and so unappetizing, 3) is not appetizing itself, so doesn't make you want to continue eating more of the flavour.

So it makes for a practical, useful flavour for something with which to end a meal or stop yourself eating, which is nice in toothpaste, since you don't want to crave food after brushing your teeth.

There are a few other flavours I know of that match mint in those 3 palate-cleaning ways (and I sometimes use them as others might use after-dinner-mints), but a lot of people think they taste really awful. OTOH, I guess a lot of people think mint tastes awful too :-)

(Yes, I'm fairly confident for a variety of reasons and experiences that these are properties of mint for my taste buds, and not childhood pavlovian conditioning from brushing my teeth. I wasn't that kind of brusher :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:44 AM on March 17, 2005

There's all sorts of toothpaste flavours out there.

The very organic brand, Tom's of Maine, carries a peach flavour toothpaste.
Even Crest is trying out cinnamon (fantastic), vanilla(so-so) and orange (alright) flavoured toothpastes.
posted by ruelle at 1:07 AM on March 17, 2005

also, menthol actually makes your mouth feel cool, and so therefore clean. Whenever i've had non-mint flavoured things with menthol in them it seems strangely incompatible.
posted by Kololo at 1:28 AM on March 17, 2005

During dental checkups, I have been offered the option of a cherry-flavored paste when the hygenist gets in there with her electric tooth polisher thingie.
posted by britain at 3:59 AM on March 17, 2005

When I was a kid I used to get strawberry and orange flavour toothpastes for children
posted by lunkfish at 4:14 AM on March 17, 2005

apart from making you feel good, the (strong) taste might be there to mask the fact that you're washing your mouth out with soap. maybe they've got better soaps/detergents these days and so can try more flavours, but perhaps way back when toothpaste first became popular, mint was the only thing strong enough to keep your mind of the soap.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:15 AM on March 17, 2005

The problem with getting non-mint toothpaste, at least for us kids, is that we tend to want to eat it. At least, I did.
posted by mek at 5:16 AM on March 17, 2005

I've had cinnamon toothpaste. It tastes so bad I had to use mint toothpaste to get rid of it..
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:20 AM on March 17, 2005

I've tried Crest's vanilla toothpaste. It's like brushing your teeth with cake frosting.
posted by emelenjr at 6:32 AM on March 17, 2005

This thread is making me want to go out and buy that orange toothpaste with glitter that kids use.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:53 AM on March 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

I can't stand the orange stuff--too artificial tasting. My daughter has some bubblegum flavored paste, but it feels too much like I'm eating candy (which I guess is sorta -harlequin-'s point). But I'm loving the Tom's ginger and baking soda stuff we just got.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:01 AM on March 17, 2005

Actually, my bartender was telling me that his baby daughter has an allergy to gluten and wheat, so she dosen't get fed cakes or cookies much, yet her baby toothpaste is flavored very sweet, so she looks at it as a treat and loves oral hygeine as a result.

I've had cinnamon toothpaste

Me too. Pips bought some of that half liquid stuff that you have to shake to get out of the container once it gets down to half full. I was shaking it when a squirt came out and hit me right in the eye. Burned like a motherfucker. So not only does it taste bad, it's hazardous.
posted by jonmc at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2005

Try toothpaste with salt in it. Tastes weird at first but it's so much better and more refreshing than mint that once you're used to it mint will have the same effect on you that orange and cinnamon flavours have now.
posted by Skyanth at 7:52 AM on March 17, 2005

I personally go for the baking-soda toothpaste, as it's the closest I can get to a non-flavor without being uncannily bland.
posted by odinsdream at 8:02 AM on March 17, 2005

I hate mint flavors of all types. That's why I used plain old gold Listerine. The new citrus flavored mouthwash isn't the greatest, but for me, it's better than mint and old gold.

As for cinnamon toothpaste, I have used Close-Up for decades. Not very cinnamony, but it works.
posted by mischief at 8:10 AM on March 17, 2005

The flavor of mint isn't incompatible with other food flavors. Real mint and real citrus fruit taste fine together, for instance — lemonade with fresh mint in it is one of life's great pleasures.

It's the other chemicals in toothpaste that make food taste weird after you brush your teeth. Sodium lauryl sulfate — the "soap" that andrew cooke mentions — blocks your sweet-sensitive taste buds and leaves the bitter ones alone. Things that are normally sweet taste harsh and bitter until the effect wears off.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:04 AM on March 17, 2005

I've tried the Crest (?) Cinnamon, and hate it. I've also tried the Aquafresh Orange, and grew to not hate it.

Still, I prefer mint.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 AM on March 17, 2005

Tom's of Maine has a fennel toothpaste. I love the taste of fennel, but I had to stop using the toothpaste because it'd make me gag.

I do remember that my mouth did feel 'clean' afterwards, though.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2005

We had a friend who worked for a big toothpaste manufacturer, and he told us lots of focus group stories. Evidently, green tea flavored toothpaste is very popular in Chinese markets. Apparently, mint isn't a universal.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:12 PM on March 17, 2005

What is this tooth paste all of you are taking about? Also what are teeth?
posted by darkmatter at 2:55 PM on March 17, 2005

Hey, I'll give you a really practical reason why mint is more common than clove or cinnamon: cost. Mint is cheap and easy to grow in temperate zones (it grows like a weed). Clove and cinnamon were much more expensive in the 1800s when commercial products like toothpaste were invented.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:16 PM on March 17, 2005


No, it's not just toothpaste, mint foods (like afterdinner mints) are also incompatible with citrus and other foods, as are mint breath fresheners. Toothpaste is worse, yes, but it's not limited to toothpaste.

By mint, I mean the (presumably artifically reproduced) flavour, not the plant, which as a garnish doesn't seem anywhere near as strong. But it's been years since I've tasted real mint, so I may have forgotten :)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:59 PM on March 18, 2005

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