The History of Toothpaste

The Development of a Useful Dental Product


Unrolling the Story of Toothpaste

Choosing a toothpaste today can be a time consuming endeavor. Whitening toothpastes, gels, toothpastes with swirling patterns, pastes for sensitive teeth, breath freshening formulas, toothpastes with fluoride — the options take up a large portion of the dental care aisle. They promise cleaner teeth, a whiter smile, fewer cavities and fresher breath. When it comes to taking care of our teeth with the basics of a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, the availability and prices make a good dental routine possible for all. At home dental care has, however, come a long way from its historical origins.

The Paste Came First

Before even a rudimentary toothbrush was invented, the Egyptians were using a paste to clean their teeth as far back as 5000 BC. The ancient Romans and Greeks used them as well, and the people of India and China started using toothpaste around the year 500 BC. As today, toothpastes were developed to treat the same conditions we are concerned about: freshening the breath and keeping the teeth and gums healthy. That is where the similarity ends.

The ingredients list for ancient “toothpastes” is enough to make one gag and it seems hard to believe that these things made your breath smell “better”: ground bones and shells, charcoal, crushed tree bark, powdered ox hooves and burnt eggshells. To help with bad breath, the Chinese added herbal mints, salt and ginseng.

Jumping forward to the 1800’s, consumers saw an improvement of sorts. Soap and chalk were added to toothpastes, and in England betel nut was used to provide a pharmaceutical “perk.” Up until the 1850’s, all products came in powder form. Then in 1873 Colgate began mass producing a jarred paste called Crème Dentifrice. This product then was offered in tube form in the 1890’s, thus beginning the great debate in households everywhere – to squeeze from the middle or the bottom?

Fluoride Makes Its Entrance

Fluoride toothpastes, strongly recommended by our Placerville dentists, were introduced in 1914 and are still common today. The addition of this one naturally occurring substance has substantially improved dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel of every regular user. Other ingredients may include coloring, flavoring, whiteners and products to help fight plaque, tartar and bad breath. We’ll talk about what some of those ingredients actually are in a future article.

So the next time you’re standing in the store wondering which brand of toothpaste to buy, be thankful you don’t have to check the ingredients list for ox hooves, shells and crushed bones. That might be a bit much to swallow.


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