Short History of Toothpaste

The modern consumer now has the option of hundreds of flavors, colors, brands, textures, sizes, and health claims of contemporary toothpastes. Just like most hygiene products, the history of toothpaste had its dark days. Here is brief history of the evolution of toothpaste into the booming industry it has become today.

  • The earliest forms of toothpastes were improved by the Greeks and Romans by adding crushed bones and oyster shells as abrasives. Today, abrasives make up half of the toothpaste ingredients.
  • Toothpowders were generally made from chalk, pulverized brick, or salt mixtures; however, one 18th century recipe from Britain suggests using burnt bread, dragons blood (a type of resin), cinnamon, and burnt alum, which is a crystal-like substance with many old world uses, such as skin whitening.
  • One Home Encyclopedia from 1866 advised readers to use home-made crushed charcoal. The book warned that commercially marketed and patented tooth powders actually did more harm than good.
  • Toothpastes did not surpass toothpowders until after World War I when soldiers were required to clean their teeth daily.
  • During the mid 20th century, Gibb’s tins of toothpastes were a common commodity. The dentifrice claimed to be less wasteful than toothpastes which “must contain extra ingredients just to make it ‘squeezable’”. One 1954 ad touted Gibb’s abilities to attack germs, remove film, keep your teeth sparkling white, maintain healthy gums, and refresh your mouth. Many times, entire families used the same tin, circling wet toothbrush bristles over the dentifrice until the hard powder foamed.
  • The original collapsible toothpaste tube was made of lead, which we now know is a highly toxic substance to ingest.
  • Baking soda-based toothpastes from Arm and Hammer were available in the United States until 2000.
  • Fluoride was not a popular toothpaste ingredient until it was widely research by a group from Procter and Gamble in 1955. That same year, striped toothpaste was invented using a specifically designed tube.
  • Now toothpastes come in hundreds of flavors ranging from the typical spearmint, or peppermint, to exotic flavors like lavender, vanilla, orange, neem, bubblegum, and even whiskey.

Chicago dentist, Dr. James Fondriest looks forward to helping you achieve optimal oral health. Call our office at 847.234.0517 to schedule an appointment for a dental cleaning or checkup today. We serve patients from Lake Forest and the North Shore of Chicago.