Here at Dentistry of Nashville we’re quite the educated bunch. All of our staff members and doctors have years of experience under our belts. Come to think of it, if we all tried to combine the years of experience we have together, the result would most likely be some outrageous number. This is why a topic that came up between two staff members the other day while they were eating lunch was so funny. What was the topic? Where the heck did toothpaste come from?
Working in a dental office, and treating teeth every day, all of us here at Dentistry of Nashville deal with toothpaste on a daily basis. It is a major part of all our doctor’s, dental assistant’s, and dental hygienist’s jobs. Yet the two staff members, who happened to be dental assistants, could not answer the question. After their lunch, they approached other members of our staff, and while some had a good idea as to where toothpaste might have come from, no one could answer with any amount of authority. It seems the question has just never come to mind!
So of course, we took to the internet in search of answers. What we found had all of us blown away. It turns out in or for us to answer the question of where toothpaste came from were going to have to take a trip back in time. Way back in time. As in all the way back to ancient Egypt, sometime around 3000-5000 BC. That’s right. Toothpaste is really that old. Ok, well technically what existed in ancient Egypt around this time was in no way a “paste” that you would recognize today, but the basic idea was there. In fact, the stuff the Egyptians used was essentially a dental cream made from the powdered ashes of oxen hooves, myrrh, egg shells, pumice, and water. Yeesh. Talk about gross. In all honesty, our dentists aren’t sure this dental cream did any good at all. The fact that ashes were in the mix, along with pieces of bone from hooves, most likely made this cream very abrasive. Even though the idea was innovative, it properly did more damage to the user’s teeth than anything else. Still, points to Egypt for being the first known culture to make an effort.
The next folks up in the toothpaste history chronicles are the ancient Romans and Greeks. Much like the Egyptians, the Romans and Greeks used abrasive ingredients in their dental creams. In fact, they took it a step further it terms of potential tooth damage factor by adding crushed seashells and bits of bones that were not just hooves. Charcoal was added as well. However, something interesting happened with the Roman and Greek recipes. This is the time period that, for the first time, someone decided to add an element to the cream for taste and to perhaps help with bad breath. Traces of various tree barks have been found in the recipes from these ancient cultures.
Around the same time as the Greeks and Romans, about 500 BC, the Chinese were working on their own rendition of toothpaste. It seems they were even more concerned with the taste of the cream, and its potential to battle bad breath because they were the first to add mint to the recipe. The Chinese also threw in Ginseng and salt as well. This version was most no doubt a vast improvement from the ashy, bone filled version the Egyptians first brought to the toothpaste table.
However, after the Chinese made the advancements with taste, a funny thing happened in the toothpaste world. Innovations to the recipes sort of just stopped. For the most part toothpaste stayed in the powdery form the Egyptians first presented for a very long time. Then things moved westward and in the early 1800’s soap was added to the mixture for the first time. By 1850, the first actual “paste” could be found in a jar on your bathroom countertop. Colgate came into the picture around 1873 and jump-started mass production of the stuff. Unfortunately, the recipes were still fairly abrasive and most likely actually did more damage to the teeth than they helped.
Then in 1914 fluoride was finally introduced into the mix. However, during this time toothpaste was actually coming in a tin/lead container. When it was discovered that the lead was leaking into the toothpaste, plastic tubes were employed and this is where toothpaste started to morph into something we would recognize today.
Then by 1960 fluoride toothpaste had become the standard, and by 1980 all sorts of ingredients were being added to the recipes, like agents that aid in whitening. It was around this time that toothpaste became what we know it as today; A household item that an entire aisle in the grocery store is dedicated to.
We hope you guys found this history lesson as enthralling as we did. Until next time, keep smiling!