Toothpaste: Then and Now

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Have you ever wondered who invented toothpaste, and what early civilizations used to clean their teeth? If you read on, you’ll find answers to these questions and more as we delve into a brief history of the creation and evolution of toothpaste.

Historians credit the Egyptians with the earliest form of dental hygiene. Around 5000 BC, the Egyptians created an abrasive paste to clean their teeth. By 500 BC, Greece, Rome, China and India all adopted variations of the cleansing paste.

These pastes consisted of organic materials such as powdered ox hoof, ashes and burnt eggshells, and the more abrasive pastes added crushed bones and oyster shells. The Romans and Chinese also added flavored ingredients, such as ginseng, salt and herbal mints to combat both bad breath and the taste of the other ingredients. These pastes, while effective in cleaning the teeth, also removed a lot of enamel (the protective layer of the teeth), leading to greater dental problems.

These pastes, used in conjunction with “chewing sticks,” prevailed until the 1800s, when soap briefly became a ingredient and Colgate began selling paste in jars as a means of mass production. The World War era brought the arrival of fluoride—perhaps the most important ingredient—and production companies switched to plastic tubes to reduce the war’s tin shortage. The paste also became significantly less abrasive, as companies began using foaming agents and sweeteners.

Modern toothpaste typically contains fluoride, coloring and flavoring agents, sodium lauryl sulphate and ingredients to make the paste soft and moist. Different brands of toothpaste provide a variety of flavors and purposes to appeal to all consumer types.

For more information on toothpaste, contact McKinnon Dental at 920-739-1181. Dr. McKinnon will gladly help you find a toothpaste that best fits your dental needs.