The History of Toothpaste

September 25, 2017

Today, we know that you can’t hope for a healthy smile without the proper paste. But back in the day, people weren’t so knowledgeable.

Before we had access to the modern-day blend of fluoride, gentle abrasives, humectants, flavorings, and detergents; ancient civilizations used some peculiar items to clean their teeth.

Now that school is back in session, we figured we’d kick things off with a history lesson! Keep reading to find out how this essential dental health product evolved from ground up stones to the minty concoction we know and love today.

It Began with the Egyptians

While historians believe Egyptians were using a mixture of ingredients to clean their teeth as early as 5,000 BC, the earliest known formula dates to the year 4 AD. The mixture contained:

  • Crushed rock salt
  • Mint
  • Iris flowers
  • Pepper

Though this blend resulted in lots of gum bleeding and was certainly less than optimal for oral health, some say it is the most effective historic regimen until as recently as 100 years ago.

The Evolution of Toothpaste

Eventually, our ancestors wised up, but not before trying some more strange concoctions.

Other ancient societies whisked together various mixtures for cleaning their teeth. Greeks and Romans favored a blend of crushed bones and oyster shells; while the Chinese preferred to clean their pearly whites with ginseng, herbal mints, and salt.

Over the next few centuries, toothpaste went through a colorful evolution:

1780: There is evidence that during this time, people brushed with burnt bread crumbs.

1824: A dentist named Dr. Peabody ditched the bready blend, but added soap for a cleaner finish. This was later replaced by sodium lauryl sulfate for a well-blended consistency. This ingredient is still present in modern-day pastes. Up until this point, tooth “pastes” were actually in the form of powders.

1850’s: For the next few decades, chalk is a common dental-hygiene aid.

1873: Colgate launches the first nice smelling, smooth paste. It is sold in small glass jars.

1892: Dr. Washington Sheffield debuts the first collapsible tube of toothpaste.

1914: Fluoride is discovered to have ample benefits for teeth and is added to pastes.

1987: NASA invents edible toothpaste. While this was originally intended for astronauts to brush without spitting, it is now used for children just learning to brush.

1989: This year, Rembrandt comes out with the first toothpaste that claims to whiten teeth.

While ancient toothpastes were not the healthiest for promoting long-term oral health, historians believed they were created with the same intentions as modern-day blends—to freshen breath and clean gums and teeth.

At Lone Tree Modern Dental & Orthodontics, we are happy to be alive in 2017, when we have options for keeping our teeth clean besides crushed bones or chalk!