Toothpaste Through the Ages

September 29, 2017

When we brush our teeth we squeeze a substance on our brush that we’re all familiar with.

Toothpaste is made of a blend of flavorings, detergents, gentle abrasives, humectants, and fluoride. But before we established this perfect formula, people cleaned their teeth with some questionable concoctions.

Hampden Dental Group is kicking off the 2017-2018 school year with a look back into the history of toothpaste.

Toothpaste’s Roots are Egyptian

Historians have found evidence from 5,000 BC of Egyptians using some sort of concoction to clean teeth and freshen breath. Ancient Egyptians used the following blend:

  • Pepper
  • Iris flowers
  • Crushed rock salt
  • Mint

Though this blend resulted in lots of gum bleeding and was certainly less than optimal for oral health, some say it is the most effective historic regimen until as recently as 100 years ago.

Toothpaste Timeline

After several hundred years, our ancestors finally got it together, but they did hit some snags along the way.

Greeks and Romans used crushed bones and oyster shells, while Chinese society was using a mix of herbal mint, salt, and ginseng.

That was just the beginning of this whirlwind of toothpaste updates:

1780: A common formula for cleaning teeth during this time period was to burn a piece of toast and use the crumbs as paste.

1824: A dentist named Dr. Peabody adds soap to the mix. Several years down the road, this is replaced by sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient that remains in toothpaste today and results in a well-blended consistency. Up until now, tooth “pastes” were actually more like powders.

1850’s: For several decades, crushed chalk is a main ingredient in toothpastes and powders.

1873: Colgate rolls out the first smooth paste that smells nice and is similar to what we use today. The major difference is that it is sold in glass jars.

1892: Dr. Washington Sheffield invents the first collapsible tube for storing toothpaste.

1914: Fluoride’s many benefits are uncovered and it becomes a regular addition.

1987: NASA creates edible toothpaste so that astronauts can brush without worrying about rinsing or spitting. It is found to have an alternative use as children’s toothpaste.

1989: Rembrandt debuts the world’s first toothpaste carrying claims to whiten teeth.

Even though bleeding gums were likely commonplace throughout history, historians think ancient cultures create these formulas to serve a similar purpose as pastes today. They used them to clean gums and teeth and freshen their breath.

At Hampden Dental Group, we’re glad we weren’t around for the portion of history when chalk dust was used to brush!