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The Long and Fascinating History of Toothpaste

By Dr. Silvers on March 30, 2017


A woman with a toothbrush and toothpasteBelieve it or not, toothpaste has a fascinating history that goes back thousands and thousands of years. It's something we all take for granted, but if you really consider where toothpaste came from, you might be astonished by the inventiveness of humans through the ages.

The team at our Harrisburg restorative dentistry center would like to consider the history of toothpaste, starting at its origins in the ancient world.

Ancient Dental Creams of Egypt and Babylon

Before toothpaste, people used a similar concoction known as a dental cream. These creams date back to 5000 BC and 3000 BC, pre-dating the chew stick (a forerunner to the toothbrush). The creams were applied with a rag and wiped off to polish the teeth.

Unfortunately, these dental creams probably didn't taste all that great.

Some of the most common ingredients in these dental creams included crushed egg shells, ground ox hooves, myrrh, and pumice.

Other Dental Creams of the Ancient World

Dental creams could also be found in other ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome. These dental creams had similar off-putting ingredients, such as tree bark, bone, charcoal, and oyster shells.

In China around 500 BC, dental creams would take a big step forward in terms of overall palatability. The Chinese used mint and ginseng to help freshen the breath when the dental cream was used. This could be paired with the use of chew sticks made from aromatic twigs.

Tooth Powders of the 19th Century

In the 1800s, tooth powders were a popular means of cleaning your teeth. In theory, using tooth powders would be similar to using baking soda to brush you teeth, which is still common today.

In practice, however, tooth powders had a number of problems.

Common ingredients in 19th century tooth powders included charcoal, salt, chalk, and bits of brick. These could all wear down and break teeth, not to mention harm the gumline.

The 1800s: Toothpaste as We Know It Is Born

Even though tooth powders were very popular in the 1800s, toothpaste as we know it would be born in the same century. The earliest toothpastes were created in the 1820s, a combination of tooth powder and soap. The 1850s would see early toothpastes include chalk to the mix. By 1873, Colgate began mass production of toothpaste.

The Birth of the Toothpaste Tube

We tend to take the toothpaste tube for granted (almost like we take toothpaste for granted, come to think of it), yet it is a relatively new invention in the history of mankind. Prior to the tube, toothpaste was sold in boxes and bottles. Thanks to new fabrication techniques, toothpaste could now be contained in collapsible tubes. The first tubes of toothpaste appeared in the 1880s courtesy of entrepreneurial dentist Dr. Washington Sheffield.

The Beginning of Fluoride Toothpaste

Fluoride toothpastes didn't appear in the 1950s. This was a decade after water fluoridation efforts began in a handful of cities across America. Now fluoride is part of many different products, helping to improve the health and strength of the teeth.

More Recent Innovations in Toothpaste

In the last 50 years or so, changes to toothpastes have note seemed quite so drastic. There's been an emergence of cosmetic toothpastes, particularly those that help whiten teeth and bleach dental stains. There are also toothpastes for people who suffer from tooth sensitivity, which can help with making oral hygiene more comfortable. We've also noticed changes in ingredients and many people seeking out natural toothpastes that are made from natural items.

As oral hygiene continues to evolve and improve, rest assured that we will bring you news on the latest innovations in the dental care profession.

Learn More About Oral Hygiene Innovations

For more information about improving your dental health and oral hygiene, be sure to contact an experienced cosmetic and restorative dentist today. Our team looks forward to your visit and discussing these matters in much greater detail.

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