The Origin of Toothpaste

September 27, 2017

vintage toothpasteBrushing your teeth requires two materials—a toothbrush and toothpaste. We are all familiar with the white, minty goop but is that what the first toothpaste was like? How did the paste evolve into what it is today?

Modern pastes strike a carefully measured balance of gentle abrasives, flavorings, humectents, fluoride, and detergents. But before we settled on this recipe, ancient cultures took some other mixes for a spin.

With school in full swing, All Smiles Dental Group can think of no better time to educate our patients on the history of toothpaste!

The Ancient Egyptians Kick Things Off

As early as 5,000 BC, there is evidence that Egyptians used some kind of substance to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. The first known formula was also created by the Egyptians around 4 AD.

This blend included:

  • Crushed rock salt
  • Mint
  • Pepper
  • Iris flowers

Though we certainty don’t recommend mixing a similar blend at home, this formula was among the most effective up until as recently as 100 years ago.

Toothpaste News Blitz

After a few centuries, we finally hit the mark with a paste similar to what we use today. However, the road to get there was fairly bumpy.

In ancient Greek and Roman societies, our ancestors brushed their pearly whites with oyster shells and crushed bones. Around the same time in China, people used salt, ginseng, and mint on their chompers.

Then, things kick into full swing:

1780: If you lived during this time, you may have crushed up a slice of burnt toast for an oral hygiene aid.

1824: Dr. Peabody, a dentist during the time, brings soap to the table. This helped to create a smooth consistency. Eventually, researchers forgo the sudsy blend, replacing it with lauryl sulfate, an ingredient we still use today. Before the addition of these ingredients, toothpastes were actually powders.

1850’s: Around this time, crushed chalk is used as toothpaste. The trend continues for a few decades.

1873: This is the year that Colgate releases the first minty-smelling, smooth paste that is similar to what we use today. It is sold in a glass jar.

1892: Dr. Washington Sheffield develops the first collapsible tube, setting the standard for toothpaste packaging.

1914: Fluoride is found to have a host of benefits and it is added to the standard blend.

1987: NASA debuts edible toothpaste to make it easier for astronauts to brush in space. This variety of toothpaste carries another purpose—helping children learn to brush without having to worry about swallowing.

1989: The first toothpaste with whitening claims hits the market.

Though toothpaste has changed a lot over the centuries, historians believe that its purpose was always the same: to clean teeth and gums while freshening breath.

At All Smiles Dental Group, we’re happy we never had to brush our teeth with burnt toast crumbs, but it’s fun to learn about the historic journey of toothpaste.