How Toothpaste Went from Chalky Powder to Minty Cream

September 29, 2017

Brushing our teeth is a routine part of everyday life. Most of us give little thought when we grab a colorful, collapsible tube and squeeze a calculated blend of minty paste onto our brush.

Today’s toothpastes are composed of a perfect blend of detergent, fluoride, flavorings, gentle abrasives,and humectants. But before we arrived on this mix, our ancestors experimented with some questionable concoctions.

Now that school is back in session, we’re about due for a history lesson! Panorama Dental has compiled this summary of the origin of toothpaste.

It Started With the Ancient Egyptians

It is believed that this innovative society was using some type of substance to brush as early as 5,000 BC. However, historians believe that Egyptians didn’t come up with the first known blend of toothpaste until 5 BC. The recipe was made of:

  • Mint
  • Iris flowers
  • Crushed rock salt
  • Pepper

Don’t go recreating this paste at home, but the formula is perhaps the most effective on record until about a century ago.

Toothpaste Takes Off

In China, ancient people mixed salt, ginseng, and mint to clean their pearly whites, while in Greece and Rome, our ancestors brushed with crushed bones and oyster shells.

This was just the beginning of a whole series of news points:

1780: When mouths got dirty around this time, it was customary to crush a slice of burnt toast and use that to brush.

1824: Dr. Peabody threw soap into the mix this year. With this addition, toothpaste takes on a creamy texture—prior to this, it was only available in powder form. We enjoy the creamy texture today without the soapy taste, thanks to an ingredient called lauryl sulfate.

1850’s: From this point to a few decades after, crushed chalk is commonly used as toothpaste.

1873: Colgate rolls out the first minty, creamy paste that is similar to what we’re used to today. It was first sold in small glass jars.

1892: Dr. Washington Sheffield creates a collapsible tube that becomes the norm for packaging toothpaste.

1914: The benefits of fluoride are discovered and it becomes a regular ingredient in toothpaste.

1987: The first edible toothpaste hits the market in order to help astronauts brush in space. Then it is discovered to have a secondary use, helping kids learn to brush without running the risk of swallowing excess paste.

1989: For the first time, a toothpaste claims to have whitening benefits.

As you can see, toothpaste has traveled down quite a rocky road before becoming what we know today. However, historians think it had the same intended purpose from the very beginning: to freshen breath and clean teeth.

While we’re happy we never had to brush with chalk, we had fun learning about how toothpaste came to be!