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Toothpaste To Go, 1890

Updated on July 22, 2013

Traveling Tooth Tablets

I love looking through old magazines and books. You really find the most extraordinary things, recipes and weird products and odd customs and ideas. My favorite era is the VIctorian period, though if you read my retro blog you'll know that I love the 1920-1970 period, too.

Tooth powder was a popular dental cleanser back in the Victorian era, as it had been for centuries. The ancient Romans used tooth powder made from burnt and ground-up bones, egg shells and oyster shells - often mixed with, of all things, honey. Not the best thing to brush your teeth with to get the sugar off, but never mind. My grandfather, in the 1930s, used plain baking soda - a much better idea, and one that's still used today by itself and in baking soda toothpastes.

This advertisement from 1890 shows an innovation I'd never seen before: tooth powder in little compressed tablets, made for traveling. Just break on off, pop it in your mouth and crunch it up, then brush away. And you could share the tin with your family, too, since it was very hygienic. And they came in a nice air-tight tin, too. They were :"highly indorsed [sic] by eminent dentists" (Dr. Lyons' friends, no doubt), which was good to know. What was in them? I don't know exactly, but I can tell you about some Victorian recipes for homemade tooth powder. You may want to grab a tin of Dr. Lyons' tablets after you read them, though!

White elephant, 1849.
White elephant, 1849. | Source

Some Dubious Recipes

In The Druggist's General Receipt Book of 1872, Mr. Henry Beasley gives us a whole menu of tooth powder recipes, but first, some instructions: make sure you grind all the ingredients very fine, and mix everything well. You can shake them in a bottle, or put them through a sieve (maybe you'd better do both). Some of the powders can be mixed with water, if you prefer a nice paste.

So how about some American Tooth Powder? That contains coral, cuttle-fish bone, dragon's blood, burnt alum and red sanders; and for flavoring, orris root, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla and rosewood. Oh, and don't forget the pink coloring. Wait - did he say dragon's blood ? Oh, don't worry. We won't be upsetting Hagrid or anything. Although knowing that it is dark red resin doesn't make it much better, does it? And cuttle fish bone. Oh, dear. Let's keep going:

Dr. Coombe's Tooth Powder has got sugar, charcoal, Peruvian bark, cream of tartar and cinnamon. Not much of a step up from the Romans who brushed with honey, really.

French Tooth Powder features a "burnt crust of bread." And the very fancy sounding Galvanic Dentifrice has got gold and silver leaf in it; the metals were supposed to be galvanic in your mouth, which sounds worrying. As do some of the other ingredients: sugar, pepper - and opium.

Miahle's Rational Dentifrice must be for sensible people only. It has sugar, tannin (which is the acrid stuff you find in tea), and oil of mint, aniseed and neroli (orange). Sounds like concentrated tea.

But my favorite recipe is Mrs. Elephant's Tooth Powder. I don't know who she was, but what a wonderful mental image I have of a huge grey pachyderm in a lacy cap, brandishing a toothbrush the size of a broom. Mrs. Elephant recommends a Tooth Powder made of bole (the part of a tree just before the branches start), myrrh, bark and orris.It sounds very - woody, doesn't it?

I am so grateful for Colgate toothpaste after reading all these recipes, I can't even tell you!


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      KarenKestrel 6 years ago

      Toothpaste Tablets are being manufactured by Archtek! If you'd like a free sample - please send an email with your name and address to and I'll send some. They're great for travel or home use - sanitary, TSA compliant and refreshing!