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A Brief History of Toothpaste

toothpasteHumans have been using toothpaste for several centuries now, which showcases how important dental health has been in history. While primitive by today’s standards, these substances were a step in the right direction towards the toothpaste we know today.

We’ve already covered the history of toothbrushes, so now it’s time to see just how the other half of dental care has evolved throughout the ages.

Egyptian Toothpaste

Egyptians have been the source of most modern technology, including the use of toothpaste, which involved some primitive materials. In comparison to the minty offerings available today, Egyptian toothpaste was made of powdered ashes made from ox hooves, myrrh, burnt eggshells, and pumice which were then mixed with water.

There are also reports of Egyptians using a combination of rock salt, mint, dried iris flowers, and pepper. This combination is known to cause damage to gums, but it has been reported to be more effective at removing plaque and other dental residue than other pastes in the 1800s.

Greeks and Romans preferred a more abrasive solution that combined crushed bones and oyster shells to help remove any residue in their teeth. Bad breath was also treated by using powdered charcoal and bark.

The Chinese preferred a mixture of ginseng, herbal mints, and salt to provide cleaning power while giving their mouth a refreshing cleaning sensation.

Early toothpaste tended to favor abrasion, such as salt, eggshells, and bones, as a way to clean the teeth, something that would persist until the 1800s.

19th Century Innovation in Toothpaste

While our ancestors used a variety of primitive toothpaste for their daily lives, the real boom of innovation started in the 1800s. Ingredients such as soap and chalk were used during several periods, and included the addition of other interesting ingredients such as ground charcoal, burnt bread, or betel nut.

Most of history involved the use of powders instead of the paste we commonly use today, that is until the 1850s. A new type of toothpaste was packaged in a jar and called Crème Dentifrice. Companies such as Colgate began to use this as a standard for their dental products and started to package it in jars in 1873 before switching to the tubes we use today in the 1890s. These tubes were developed by Dr. Washington Sheffield who got the idea after seeing painters using paint from tubes in Paris.

Soap was a common ingredient that was used in the past to help provide the paste with an emulsifier, although that was later replaced with sodium lauryl sulphate. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a type of “soap” that is still in use to this day in toothpaste and provides the paste a surfactant to help foam up, dissolve dental plaque, and thicken the paste.

Modern Day Toothpaste

Today there have been a variety of advances in the field of dental care including the development of whitening toothpaste, as well as other varieties that are developed to help prevent gum disease, plaque, bad breath, and caries.

There are also several brands that stay away from fluoride and instead use peppermint oil, myrrh, and other plant extracts to provide a herbal based alternative.

In comparison to the primitive powders and solutions, toothpaste today includes fluoride, sweeteners, coloring, and other ingredients that help make the toothpaste into the paste that we use in our daily lives. There are, however, areas of the world that still use tooth powder, such as India.

Toothpaste is an important part of a healthy dental routine and provides your teeth with the minerals and cleaning power they need to remain healthy and last a lifetime.

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