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The Long and Fascinating History of Toothpaste

Danny O'Keefe D.D.S. May 2, 2017

A toothbrush with toothpasteWe often take simple objects for granted in our daily life. For instance, have you ever looked in your medicine cabinet and really considered the origins of the toothbrush and your toothpaste? You may be surprised to learn that each of these common objects has a storied history going back thousands of years.

The team at our Jackson restorative dentistry center would like to take a few moments to consider the history of toothpaste. Let's start from the beginning, which may not be where you expected.

5000 BC: Dental Creams of the Ancient World

Dental creams were the ancestors of toothpaste. They were part of oral hygiene in different ancient civilizations, and can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and Babylon between 5000 BC and 3000 BC. These creams were applied with a rag and used to polish the teeth clean. While possibly effective, these dental creams probably didn't taste all that great. Common ingredients in these ancient dental creams included crushed egg shells, ground ox hooves, myrrh, and pumice.

The dental creams of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome weren't much more palatable. These creams often contained crushed charcoal, tree bark, oyster shell, and bone.

500 BC: China Improves on the Dental Cream

In 500 BC, the dental creams used in China were a bit more palatable and sensible. These creams often contained mint and ginseng to help improve the freshness of the mouth while also helping to clean the teeth. Rather than using rags, a chew stick (a precursor to the toothbrush) could be used instead.

The 1800s: Tooth Powders for Tooth Polishing

During the 1800s, tooth powders were the most popular way to polish the teeth in the western world. In principle, this is similar to brushing your teeth with baking soda. In practice, however, these powders may have done more harm than good.

Common ingredients in some of these 19th century tooth powders included salt, crushed brick, charcoal, and chalk.

The 1820s: The Birth of Toothpaste

Toothpaste in its semi-recognizable form was born around the 1820s. The earliest toothpastes were essentially tooth powders with soap added. By the 1850s, chalk was added to the early toothpastes. Colgate began mass producing toothpaste in 1873.

The 1880s: The Birth of the Toothpaste Tube

Prior to the 1880s, most people bought their toothpaste in jars or boxes. Thanks to Dr. Washington Sheffield, toothpaste began to come in a much more convenient package. We're speaking, of course, about the collapsible tube. Today, the collapsible tube used for so many different products, that we often forget it wasn't around until the late 19th century.

The 1950s: Fluoride Added to Toothpaste

During the 1940s, fluoride was added to the water supplies of select cities in the United States. The practice continued unto the 1950s, and is normal today. During the 1950s, many toothpaste manufacturers began adding fluoride to their toothpaste to promote better dental health.

Other Innovations in Recent Decades

In recent decades, the innovations to toothpaste have emphasized comfort and aesthetics. Tooth whitening is a major innovation in toothpastes, with special bleaching agents incorporated into the toothpaste itself. There are also toothpastes that are designed for people with sensitive teeth. Better ingredients and improved understanding of dental health and resulted in much more effective toothpastes with regard to fighting plaque, tartar, and tooth decay.

Learn More About Proper Oral Hygiene

For more information about toothpaste and your many options for advanced dental care treatment, be sure to contact an experience cosmetic and restorative dentist today. We look forward to your visit and discussing these matters in much greater detail.

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