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The History of Toothpaste

Updated on December 4, 2012
The toothpaste we are currently using. Not bad!
The toothpaste we are currently using. Not bad! | Source

The Importance of Dental Health

Much has been said in the recent past about the connection between your dental health and your body's overall health.

I heard a lot about it in recent years while I was pregnant because the doctors cautioned me that my dental health could also affect my baby's overall health, too!

Basically, if your mouth is healthy, your body (and any body that is depending on your body for health and life) will be, too.

One of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy is to brush your teeth at least twice a day. And most people wouldn't think of brushing their teeth without toothpaste, although there are some that do (I am not one of those people). I like toothpaste as much as the next guy (or girl).

How did this crucial brushing aid come into being? Toothpaste has a long and fascinating history.

What's your favorite brand of toothpaste?

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Mint plant. Thank goodness someone decided to add into the toothpaste mix to flavor it!
Mint plant. Thank goodness someone decided to add into the toothpaste mix to flavor it! | Source

The Ancient Egyptians Had Toothpaste

Apparently the importance of dental health is not a new discovery. Even the ancients had tooth cleaning routines that included some form of toothpaste.

Around 5000 BC, the ancient Egyptians used a paste made of ox hoof ashes, myrrh, crushed burnt egg shells, pumice, and water. They put all these delightful ingredients together and then rubbed it on their teeth with their fingers since toothbrushes had not been invented yet.

At some point before the 4th century AD, however, the Egyptians changed their toothpaste recipe. Archaeologists actually found an existing papyrus with the formula the Egyptians used for their new and improved toothpaste. This paste consisted of mashed rock salt, mint, iris, and black pepper. This abrasive paste most certainly caused the gums to bleed, but at least the breath was freshened by the mint.

Half an oyster shell. Pretty, but I don't imagine it would taste very good.
Half an oyster shell. Pretty, but I don't imagine it would taste very good.

And So Did Other Cultures

Shortly after the Egyptians invented their toothpaste, the ancient Greeks developed their own version with ground oyster shells and bones. Definitely not very tasty or easy on the gums, but the abrasiveness of the treatment should have at least scratched the teeth clean. The Romans later improved on this formula by adding charcoal, powdered bark, and flavoring.

Around the same time all this was going on, the Chinese invented their toothpaste which contained a number of different ingredients, like salt, ginseng, and other herbs. Perhaps the oddest addition to the Chinese paste was gunpowder! I imagine you had to be really careful brushing your teeth with that.

Several thousand years later, the Persians decided it was necessary to have a less abrasive toothpaste. The ingredients they used included crushed snail shells, gypsum, and hartshorn, flintstone, green lead, verdigris, and other minerals. They added honey, incense, and herbs for flavoring.


More Modern Forms of Toothpaste

Not much is known about the evolution of toothpaste between 1000 and 1700 AD. During the 18th century in England, it became popular for dentists to prescribe tooth powder to their patients. This powder consisted of bicarbonate of soda, brick dust, crushed china, earthenware, and even cuttlefish. They added sugar for flavoring and later Borax to make the mixture foam.

Nineteenth century toothpaste innovations included the addition of glycerin (for taste) and strontium (to help strengthen teeth and reduce gum sensitivity). In 1824, dentists began adding soap to the tooth powder. And in 1850, a man named John Harris added chalk.

One of the famous Colgate clocks.
One of the famous Colgate clocks.

The Birth of a Toothpaste Giant

In 1873, the Colgate Company began mass-production of toothpaste in jars. The modern toothpaste tube was introduced a short time later. This toothpaste, unlike its predecessors, smelled and tasted good. It had to; otherwise, no one would have bought it.

More advancements were made to toothpaste in the early twentieth century. Fluoride was added to prevent tooth decay. Toothpastes also became less abrasive to protect tooth enamel.

And Then Another Toothpaste Giant Made Its Mark

In the 1940s, soap was replaced by other ingredients, like lauryl sulfate, to give toothpaste its smoothness. At the time, tooth decay was one of the biggest health problems Americans had, so a lot of time and money went into researching how to improve oral health. Out of this research, the Crest toothpaste company was formed.

Crest started marketing its fluoride toothpaste in 1955 and quickly began to give Colgate a run for its money. Still, the Colgate company was too well-established to go under, and it continues to thrive to this day. Many people and dental offices still prefer it over the other major brand. It just goes to show the power of American capitalism. Neither one of the companies has yet been able to take over total control of the market.

Today the Two Giants Co-Exist Amicably

At least, it seems that they co-exist amicably, for the most part. Of course, both companies compete against each other for customers, but the competition isn't cut-throat, by any means.

The two companies have very similar products at the moment - Crest Pro Health toothpaste and Colgate Total. Crest Pro Health supposedly fights tooth decay, tartar, plaque, and gingivitis, all at the same time it freshens your breath, whitens your teeth, and makes your gums less sensitive. The main active ingredients of Crest Pro Health are stannous fluoride and sodium hexametaphosphate. Colgate Total touts similar benefits, but it has the bacteria-fighting ingredient Triclosan as its main ingredient. And its benefits are supposed to last for a full 12 hours.

Which is the best toothpaste to use? I can't really say. I've tried both and liked them both. I prefer the taste of Colgate Total, but studies have shown that Triclosan can actually do more harm than good in the promotion of superbugs that can't be killed, so for right now, I'm sticking with the Crest Pro Health toothpaste. Plus, the fact that my dentist promotes it in his office helps to sway my decision some. So, just decide for yourself which toothpaste you will use, and be grateful that such progress has been made in the history of toothpastes so that we don't run the risk of blowing our faces up with gunpowder.


Comments

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    • daskittlez69 profile image

      daskittlez69 

      7 years ago from midwest

      I just found a photo of what it looked like if you are interested. It was at http://www.eulesstx.gov/recycling/steel_history.ht...

    • daskittlez69 profile image

      daskittlez69 

      7 years ago from midwest

      I remember when I was a kid we had toothpaste powder. I believe it was Colgate that we used. It came in a container that would dump it out on your brush then get it wet. I haven;t seen it in years though.

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      8 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, PR. That sounds like an interesting idea. Who knows? Maybe we'll have those someday! :-)

    • PR Morgan profile image

      PR Morgan 

      8 years ago from Sarasota Florida

      Very interesting piece! I never new the Egyptians used toothpaste. 7000 years later and we still are using almost the same method! I think we should have laser powered toothbrushes!

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      8 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks, Seeker. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      8 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Great hub - fasciinating. I didn't realise that dental hygiene went back so far!!

    • workingmomwm profile imageAUTHOR

      Mishael Austin Witty 

      8 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Nope. I've never asked myself that question. I just don't swallow it.

    • MikeNV profile image

      MikeNV 

      8 years ago from Henderson, NV

      Have you ever asked yourself why you need to call a poison control center if you accidentally swallow more than is needed for a single brushing? It's right on the label of all the big corporate manufactured brands.

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