Toothpaste History And Facts

The earliest known toothpaste history is contained in a manuscript from Egypt and dates back to the 4th century A.D. It prescribes a mixture of powdered salt, pepper, mint leaves, and iris flowers. And believe it or not, the Romans used formulations based on human urine. Since urine contains ammonia, it was probably effective in whitening teeth.



In American toothpaste history, a recipe from the 1700s containing burnt bread has been found. Another formula around this time called for dragon's blood, cinnamon, and burnt alum. However, toothpastes or powders did not come into general use until the following century.

In the early 1800s, the toothbrush was usually used only with water, but powders soon gained popularity. Most were home made, with chalk, pulverized brick, and salt being common ingredients. An 1866 Home Encyclopedia recommended pulverized charcoal, and cautioned that many patented powders being commercially marketed did more harm than good.

By 1900, a paste made of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda was recommended. Pre-mixed varieties were first marketed in the 19th century, but did not surpass the popularity of tooth-powder until World War I.

A milestone in toothpaste history occurred in New York City in 1896, when Colgate & Company manufactured toothpaste in the first collapsible tube, similar to that recently introduced for artists' paints.

Fluoride was first added in 1914, but while the early use of fluoride was criticized by the American Dental Association (ADA) in 1937, fluoride products developed in the 1950s got the ADA´s seal of approval. Countries limit and suggest different amounts acceptable for health. Much of Africa has a slightly higher percent than the United States.

Toothpaste is most commonly sold in flexible tubes, though harder containers are available. The hard containers stand straight up, saving shelf space.


Ingredients and Flavors

Sodium fluoride is the most popular active ingredient and is used to prevent cavities; some brands use sodium monofluorophosphate. Nearly all toothpaste sold in the United States has 1000 to 1100 parts per million fluoride ions from one of these active ingredients. This consistency might lead you to conclude that cheap brands are just as good as the expensive ones. When the magazine Consumer Reports rated toothpastes in 1998, 30 of the 38 were judged excellent.

Many toothpastes contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or another of the sulfate family. SLS is found in other personal care products as well, such as shampoo, and is largely a detergent and foaming agent. SLS may cause a greater frequency of mouth ulcers in some people as it can dry out the protective layer of oral tissues causing the underlying tissues to become damaged.

Some brands include powdered white mica, which acts as a mild abrasive to aid polishing of the tooth surface. It also adds a pleasant glittery shimmer to the product.

Ingredients such as baking soda, enzymes, vitamins, herbs, calcium, mouthwash, and/or hydrogen peroxide are often combined into base mixes and marketed as being beneficial. Some manufacturers add antibacterial agents, for ex. triclosan or zinc chloride.

Toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors, most often being some variation on mint (spearmint, peppermint, regular mint, etc). Other more exotic flavors include: anise, apricot, bubblegum (marketed mostly to children), cinnamon, fennel, ginger, vanilla, lemon, orange, pine. Some are even unflavored.

Toothpaste is not intended to be swallowed. Some types may cause nausea or diarrhea if swallowed in sufficient quantity. Extended consumption while the teeth are forming can result in fluorosis. This is why children of a young age should not use it except under close supervision.



Return to Article List for
the Toothpaste Info Center



Return from Toothpaste History to
Kiss Bad Breath Goodbye Home