A Brief History of Toothpaste

July 22nd, 2014

Before toothpaste graced our bathroom cabinets, people used everything under the sun, from tortoise blood applied thrice yearly, to powdered charcoal, to the ashes of crushed animal skulls. The world’s oldest known recipe for ancient toothpaste, estimated to be over two thousand years old, was discovered in a Viennese museum sketched onto papyrus, and called the ‘powder for white and perfect teeth.  The Ancient Egyptians created a formula for toothpaste consisting of rock salt, mint, pepper and dried iris flowers. Other recipes from this time call for dragon’s blood, a scarlet resin that was also used for medicinal purposes and as a dye for clothing.

Toothpaste was most popularly sold in powdered form until World War I, even though gel versions had been created as early as fifty years before.

In the late seventeen hundreds, people were known to use powdered burnt bread as a teeth cleaner. It was the key ingredient in a dry mixture, and thankfully, was not a trend that lasted long.  In the early eighteen hundreds, soap was added to toothpaste mixtures as it was thought it would add a cleanliness otherwise unachievable. This was stopped later in the century and replaced with sodium lauryn sulfate.

Toothpaste itself cannot completely clean teeth without the gentle abrasive motion that is produced via brushing. A combination of bacteria-killing ingredients formed together into a smooth paste provides a powerful and lethal enemy to dental plaque and decay.  Toothbrushes were invented in 19th century Britain, before that people were forced to use sticks, rags, their hands, or anything else they could to clean their teeth.

Colgate, one of today’s leading toothpaste brands, produced their first nice-smelling and looking, commercial toothpaste in eighteen seventy- three, it came in a jar, and went by the name of ‘aromatic dental cream.’  Toothpaste was not sold in tube-form until eighteen ninety-two, when Dr. Washington Sheffield created a collapsible tube. The original tube was constructed out of lead, something we know today as being extremely toxic.

Today, toothpaste has many interesting uses other than just for cleaning teeth. It can be used as a soothing cream for insect bites or pimples, to give silver jewelry a sparkling finish and stick posters to a wall without chipping the wall.

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