when was toothpaste invented

When was Toothpaste Invented? The History of Toothpaste

Have you ever wondered how people maintained oral hygiene before the minty-fresh toothpaste we have today? Exactly when was toothpaste invented? Interestingly, humans have used exciting concoctions over the years to maintain good oral hygiene. Some of these concoctions are effective, while others are pretty gross. 

Read on as we take you back through ancient civilizations to find out what humans used to get clean teeth and fresh breath. 

The history of toothpaste 

man brushing teeth
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

So, when was toothpaste invented? Well, toothpaste came way before toothbrushes around 5000 BC2. The ancient Egyptians were the first to use ancient toothpastes, but not as we know it today. The ancient Egyptians crushed rock salt, pepper, mint, and dried iris flowers to clean their teeth. 

People used this ancient toothpaste to whiten teeth,  freshen breath, and prevent tooth decay. However, while they were suitable abrasives and could clean the teeth well, these toothpaste ingredients were tough on the tooth enamel and gum. 

Ancient Greeks and Romans used toothpaste containing crushed bones and oyster shells. In Chinese culture, people used ingredients like herbal mints, salt, and ginseng. Other ingredients used in toothpaste history include ox hooves, burnt eggshells, burnt bread, ground charcoal, brick dust, and so on. 

From hard abrasives to toothpaste that contained soap

Toothpaste started to develop into what we know it today in the 1800s, and believe it or not, early versions had a combination of chalk, soap, and charcoal. However, just like the ancient toothpaste, they came in powder form and could only become a smooth paste when one applies water when brushing the teeth. Interestingly, manufacturers used soap as a common ingredient to make toothpaste even up until the 1940s. 

So, who invented toothpaste? 

The first toothpaste came to see the light of day in 1824. Peabody, a dentist, was the first person to include soap as an ingredient in toothpaste3

In the 1850s, John Harris added chalk as a toothpaste ingredient. Manufacturers also used Betel nut to make toothpaste in the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that Colgate introduced the mass production of the first toothpaste in a jar. 

In 1892, American Dentist Dr. Washington Sheffield created the first toothpaste in a collapsible tube similar to modern-day toothpaste tubes. He saw that it was unhygienic for people to dip toothbrushes in jars of toothpaste4

The 1900s - the rise of our modern toothpaste  

Soap was still a popular ingredient manufacturers used to make toothpaste until the 1940s. However, to make toothpaste smooth, manufacturers began to replace soap with other ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, found in our present-day toothpaste. 

As research continued to advance, manufacturers introduced fluoride toothpaste in 19145. Fluoride effectively prevents teeth corrosion, promotes gum health, and treats sensitivity. Manufacturers also formulated other toothpaste with very low abrasiveness to avoid damage to the tooth enamel. 

In the late 1900s, modern toothpaste began to spring forth to prevent and treat specific diseases and ailments like tooth decay and tooth sensitivity. In 1955, Leonard Marraffino invented the striped toothpaste, which came in a white, red, and blue mix. The ingredients used are so thick that the colors do not mix. 

Today, our toothpaste contains fluoride to strengthen the teeth, flavoring and sweeteners, humectants like glycerol to trap water, detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate, and other types of ingredients that make our toothpaste foam and stay moist, improving our oral health. 

Our modern toothpaste can help prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath when used with a good toothbrush. If you want a greener option, there’s also zero-waste toothpaste with the same benefits.

Types of toothpaste for oral hygiene 

Photo by Steve Buissinne on Pixabay

Today, we have different types of toothpaste you can use for brushing your teeth. Here are some types of toothpaste available in the market: 

Fluoride toothpaste 

The fluoride-based toothpaste is the most common type you will find in the market. Fluoride strengthens the enamel and prevents tooth decay and cavities. Fluoride levels in some European countries, like the UK and Greece, tend to be elevated. It's not uncommon to find a sodium fluoride content of 0.3% or a stannous fluoride content of 0.4%.

Fluoride toothpastes come in a wide range of flavors and textures. Dentists also recommend it, especially for people with tooth decay.

Herbal toothpaste

If you’re looking for a more natural option, herbal toothpaste is great. It comes free of active ingredients you will typically find in fluoride toothpaste. They are great for people who are sensitive to additives. However, they may not be effective in preventing tooth decay since some may come fluoride-free. 

Whitening toothpaste

As the name suggests, these whitening toothpastes help remove surface stains and whiten the teeth. While they are not as powerful as a whitening treatment, they contain ingredients that can help remove tough stains on your teeth with consistent use. However, they may not be ideal for people with sensitive teeth. 

Sensitivity toothpaste 

Sensitivity toothpaste can protect the nerves to reduce sensitivity for people with sensitive teeth caused by sweet, hot, or cold food and drinks. 

Tartar control toothpaste 

Tartar is a buildup around the teeth that can cause gum disease. This type of toothpaste contains ingredients that can help prevent and break down the buildup of tartar. 

What toothbrush did we use to maintain oral health? 

While the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese used dead flowers, mints, crushed bones, oyster shells, and other types of powder-like ingredients as toothpaste, their toothbrushes were also quite interesting. 

The Egyptians brush their teeth using toothbrushes made from frayed twigs. People believe that the Chinese invented the first bristle toothbrush using hair from pigs for the bristles and bamboo or bones for the handle. 

William Addis made the first toothbrush in England in 1780, carving the brush bristles with pigs’ hair and the handle with cattle bone. It was not until the 1950s that manufacturers began to use soft nylon bristles for modern toothbrushes1

Today, apart from the soft nylon toothbrush, we have electric toothbrushes, which were invented in 1954. With the rising concern for the planet, there are also plenty of zero-waste toothbrushes we can choose from.

Wrapping up 

From oyster shells for toothpowder to toothpaste in jars to fluoride in collapsible tubes and everything else in between, the history of toothpaste is quite fascinating. Today, different types of toothpaste perform different functions depending on your specific needs. So, the next time someone asks: when was toothpaste invented? Be the oral hygiene expert who gives out awesome facts!

1

, A. (2015). The Evolution of A Tooth Brush: From Antiquity to Present- A Mini-Review. Journal of Dental Health, Oral Disorders & Therapy, 2(4).

2

Lippert, F. (2013). An introduction to toothpaste - its purpose, history and ingredients. In Monographs in oral science (pp. 1–14).

3

Lippert, F. (2013). An introduction to toothpaste - its purpose, history and ingredients. In Monographs in oral science (pp. 1–14).

4

Lippert, F. (2013). An introduction to toothpaste - its purpose, history and ingredients. In Monographs in oral science (pp. 1–14).

5

Lippert, F. (2013). An introduction to toothpaste - its purpose, history and ingredients. In Monographs in oral science (pp. 1–14).

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Nik on Unsplash
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