history of toothpaste - closeup of toothbrush with toothpaste on bristles

The History of Toothpaste

Preventive dental care isn’t a recent idea. Ancient civilizations understood the importance of keeping their teeth clean and healthy with bristles and toothpaste. While the tools we use to clean our teeth haven’t changed all that much, the ingredients certainly have. Let’s take a look at the history of toothpaste to see just how far we’ve come. 

When Was Toothpaste Invented?

The concept of cleaning teeth with toothpaste actually goes back thousands of years. It’s believed that the Egyptians were cleaning their teeth with toothpaste as early as 5000 BCE, long before toothbrushes were invented in the 1400s. 

In 2003, museum curators in Vienna found the oldest known toothpaste recipe. Written in Greek on Egyptian papyrus, it dates back to the 4th century CE. The ingredients included rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and peppermint. An Austrian dentist tried out this recipe and found that the paste was very effective at removing plaque, though it did cause his gums to bleed. 

In fact, abrasive ingredients were very popular in the past. The Greeks and Romans were known to use crushed bones and oyster shells in their toothpaste. And the Chinese, who invented the toothbrush as we know it today, added ground fish bones. 

But that doesn’t mean you should test ancient toothpaste recipes at home. Harsh abrasives wear down your tooth enamel, causing tooth sensitivity and increasing the risk of cavities. They also irritate the gums, which can make you more susceptible to gum disease. We still use abrasive ingredients like baking soda in toothpaste today, but they are about the same hardness as your teeth, so they won’t damage your enamel. 

How Was Modern Toothpaste Invented?

What we now think of as toothpaste wasn’t invented until 1824, when a dentist named Peabody was the first person to add soap to the paste. Then, in the 1850s, John Harris added chalk as an ingredient. In 1873, Colgate started mass production of toothpaste in jars.

But an American dentist named Dr. Washington Sheffield quickly realized that jarred toothpaste had a major problem. It was unsanitary for multiple people in a household to be dipping their used toothbrushes into the same jar. 

Dr. Sheffield invented the first collapsible tube of toothpaste, inspired by paint tubes. His toothpaste was also the first ready-made paste, whereas past mixtures (including the ancient ones) were in powdered form and only became a paste once combined with water or saliva. 

Since the invention of the tube, toothpaste has seen continuous minor improvements. Toothpaste manufacturers started using less abrasive ingredients and in 1914, they started adding fluoride to help strengthen teeth. By 1945, soap was replaced with other ingredients that tasted better and made a smoother paste. Whitening ingredients were added around the 1980s to help brighten teeth.

How to Choose the Right Toothpaste for You

Toothpaste as we know it today really hasn’t been around all that long, and it has come a long way since using ingredients like crushed bones and rock salt. Today’s toothpastes are much more effective and taste significantly better than the powdered solutions from thousands of years ago. 

There are many types of modern toothpaste with various ingredients to choose from, so it’s important to choose one that works best for you. 

Follow these tips to help you select the best toothpaste:

  1. Look for a toothpaste that has earned the ADA seal of acceptance to ensure it contains safe and effective ingredients.
  2. Make sure it contains fluoride, which helps strengthen tooth enamel and fight tooth decay.
  3. Consider a specialized toothpaste formulated for your specific needs, such as sensitivity, discoloration, or gingivitis.

Family Dentist in Gilbert, Arizona

Dentistry has also changed significantly over the centuries. At Lifetime Family Dental, we provide a wide range of affordable and gentle dental services. Whether you have a toothache or need help selecting the right toothpaste for your needs, our compassionate team is happy to assist you. Call our office at 480-558-4331 today to make an appointment. 

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (11/2/2022). Photo by George Becker on Pexels