Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.

In general, toothpastes are considered to be cosmetics, but if they are marketed in a way to treat or prevent “sensitive” teeth, or if any of the ingredients within the product could render it medicinal, marketers should ensure that the product has a marketing authorisation from the MHRA and that the claims made comply with that licence. For more information visit the MHRA website. See Sensitive teeth.

Although some toothpastes and home-use kits can legitimately claim to “whiten teeth” CAP is increasingly coming across tooth whitening being offered by beauticians and clinics. We understand from the General Dental Council (GDC) that tooth whitening carried out by non-dental professionals could be illegal. Clinics not employing dentists or dental hygienists and dental therapists with the necessary skills, should check with the GDC. For further advice on 'whitening' toothpastes and other teeth whitening products and services, see Teeth whitening.

In November 2014, the ASA investigated a complaint about an ad which made clear that Aquafresh Sugar Acid Protection toothpaste could protect teeth from the sugars present in various food products, including a bar of chocolate, a doughnut and a slice of white bread. The text stated "sugar is everywhere". In this case, the complainant challenged whether the ad implied that white bread was high in sugar. However the ASA considered that the ad was unlikely to mislead because although white bread contained little or no added sugar, it could contribute to tooth decay, and the ad did not imply that white bread was high in sugar (GlaxoSmithKline UK Ltd, 19 November 2014).

A complaint about a poster for the toothpaste "Regenerate" stated "82% ENAMEL IS REGENERATED AFTER 3 DAYS" was Upheld because consumers were likely to understand that the product would have the effect of encouraging the tooth to regrow lost enamel. The ASA understands that adult enamel cannot regrow through normal biological processes and suitable evidence was not held to support the claim. Moreover, it concluded that the small print which stated "Based on an in vitro test measuring enamel hardness after 3 days" contradicted, rather than qualified the headline claim (Unilever UK Ltd, 24 December 2014).

When Rachel Riley referred to Oral B toothpaste as “smart” and “adapts to the specific issues in your mouth” the ASA did not consider that the claims exaggerated the capability of the product because consumers were likely to understand that the toothpaste could alter its formation to tackle different dental issues, for which evidence was held. In this case, the complainant also took issue with the claim “Oral-B pro-expert contains Stannous Fluoride Complex, a unique ingredient that makes it powerful” because it implied that the ingredient was unique to Oral B. However, Procter & Gamble provided a report that listed the products that included Stannous Fluoride Complex, all of which belonged to the Oral B Pro-Expert range (Procter & Gamble (Health & Beauty Care) Ltd, 24 December 2014).

See “Medicines: General”, “Medicinal claims”, “Medicines: Celebrities and health professionals”, “Teeth whitening and Cosmetics: The use of production techniques

Updated 29/12/2014

More on