The Olde Toothpaste Challenge

“You wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.”

Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash

The other day I was in the grocery store picking up a few items when I realized I was getting low on toothpaste and should pick up a tube. When I reached the section I had to scratch my head because of the impossibly vast array of toothpaste options there in front of me. Tooth whitening, cavity fighting, bold tasting, fluoride enhanced…

I finally went to the Crest section and here were still more choices. Ultimately I bought this spectacularly packaged, Crest Complete Multi-Benefit toothpaste, that not only whitens but gives you a cinnamon rush.What a beautiful package. Not only is it red, white and blue, it’s got some kind of holographic waves flowing across the background foreground. It also has its main features repeated in Spanish so this dazzling product can be marketed in San Antonio and Los Angeles.

The whole experience of making this purchase brought to mind an Andy Rooney segment from the old Sixty Minutes show. Rooney was a pugnacious, wry wit who made millions distilling a week’s worth of thought into a sixty second barb. By way of contrast, there are probably hundreds of local talk radio heads who make a few bucks by stretching sixty seconds of thought into sixty minutes of air.

One of Rooney’s pieces was titled The Cost of Ingredients, which begins like this: “I keep looking at things I buy and keep thinking about how they got to cost that much.” I can still hear his sarcastic snarl when I read that.

Andy Rooney begins this segment talking about packaging, citing a few examples. He then zeroes in on Crest. He bought two tubes of Crest, at two different places, one for $1.99 and the other for $2.39. Rooney had the ingredients tested at a place called Industrial Testing Laboratories. He wanted to know how much the ingredients for this product cost. To be fair he noted that this same procedure could be carried out with other popular toothpaste brands, so he wasn’t exactly picking on Crest.

He learned that the ingredients cost a total of twelve cents. Experts estimated that the tube and box cost about five cents.

Crest sold 200 million tubes of toothpaste that year, which would mean they spent 24 million on ingredients. With $10 million going to packaging and $41 million on advertising, the company spent half as much on ingredients as on marketing. And the revenue for all that toothpaste, at two dollars a pop, would have been $400 million.

But when I look at the box my Crest came in, I have to say it’s really a work of art. It’s simply beautiful how they manage to get so much information in such a small amount of space. Here are pictures of cinnamon, with fireworks around them, which means your tongue will be hopping for joy when you taste this paste. If the bright colors and images don’t seal the deal, you can read the sales copy on the back. “Feel it working. Know you’re covered.”

Then the real benefits, in type so small you may need a magnifying glass. Fights Cavities. Removes Surface Stains Freshens Breath. And the whole thing is repeated again in Spanish, because Hispanics also carry magnifying glasses in their pockets when they go shopping.

In fact, this box of Crest would be a useful tool for teaching Spanish to American children because being bi-lingual is useful in a country that may one day have more Spanish speakers than English.

Finally, let’s get to the drug facts. The active ingredient in this tube of Crest is Sodium Flouride, o.243%. It’s purpose is even stated clinically. This is an anti-cavity toothpaste. Other ingredients include sorbitol, water, hydrated silica, disodium pyrophosphate, sodium lauryl sulfate, flavor, sodium saccharin, sodium hydroxide, carbomer, xanthan gum, carnauba wax, cellulose gum, titanium dioxide and red 40. Feel better now? I wanna go brush my teeth again!

But wait. There are also some warnings. “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age.” That’s a little scary to me. And here’s the really scary part. “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact Poison Control Center right away.” Really?

Maybe three times a day is safer than every fifteen minutes after all. Have a great week. And don’t forget to brush.

EdNote: You can find Andy Rooney’s The Cost of Ingredients on page 169 of his book Years of Minutes.

Related: How Claude Hopkins persuaded a nation to brush its teeth.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store