The Toothpaste Backstory

Toothpaste History

Which Came First, the Brush or the Paste?

The answer to this question might surprise you! When we think of dental care, the toothbrush is probably the first component that comes to mind, but archaeological research shows that toothpaste (defined as powders or concoctions intended to improve oral health) predates the toothbrush in ancient Egypt by about 1500 years! These early forms of toothpaste were made with a variety of ingredients. They included pumice, burnt eggshells, ground-up oxen hooves, rock salt, mint, peppercorns, and dried iris flowers. The ancient Chinese added softer ingredients like mint and ginseng. In contrast, the Greeks and Romans used crushed bones and oyster shells to increase the abrasion in their tooth powders. Europeans during the Middle Ages didn’t fare any better. They tried things like honey, salt, and rye flour, applied by scrubbing their teeth with tree bark. Talk about making life easier for oral bacteria!

Even though tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body, testing the limits by using such abrasive or ill-advised ingredients is not recommended by the Yuba City Dentistry Group! Thankfully, none of these harsh components are marketed for use today (but give the Internet time and someone will unfortunately suggest it). Yet these simple facts do raise a question: Where did we get modern toothpaste?

Bringing the “Paste” to Toothpaste

Changes in dental practices were few and far between until the 1800’s. People still added ingredients like charcoal, chalk and burned breadcrumbs to their tooth powder. Around 1824, a dentist named Peabody added soap to his powder for cleanliness. Later, the soap was replaced by sodium lauryl sulfate to create a smoother paste. Around 1873, Colgate brought the first commercially produced toothpaste to the public. It was called Crème Dentifrice and it came in a jar. Twenty years later, Dr. Washington Sheffield put toothpaste in a collapsible tube, closely reflecting the version we use today.

Progressively Better Toothpaste

In 1914, another significant milestone was reached: fluoride was added to toothpaste after discovering that it significantly decreased cavities. In 1987, NASA offered another development. They created an edible toothpaste so that astronauts didn’t have to spit it out in zero gravity. It was repackaged and marketed for children just learning to brush their teeth.

Toothpaste has certainly come a long way. Where do you think it will go next? Let’s discuss that during your next checkup at the Yuba City Dentistry Group. If you haven’t already, please call us or use our website to schedule your next appointment. We’d love to hear your ideas! And if you have any questions about what toothpaste would be best for you, please ask. Just stay away from ground bone and oxen hooves.

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