Toothpaste may seem to have been around for as long as you can remember, but ask one of your grandparents and you may find out that before toothpaste became commonplace people used to use a powder that more or less did the same thing.
Tooth powders and toothpastes help to keep the teeth clean and with regular brushing and flossing remove food fragments and sticky bacteria laden plaque from the parts of the teeth where they can do the most damage, in between the teeth and close to the gums.
Toothpaste is basically made of four or five ingredients:
- an abrasive, which scours the teeth and removes food and plaque;
- fluoride, which helps to strengthen the hard enamel part of the teeth and prevent tooth decay;
- detergents, which make the toothpaste froth up in the mouth;
- flavours, such as peppermint, which make toothpaste taste better without impacting on its cleaning properties;
- humectants, which keep the paste from drying out.
Who invented toothpaste?
The history of toothpaste is quite a long one. Some people way back in the past probably used to keep their teeth clean by using a primitive toothbrush made out of a frayed stick, but it was probably the early Egyptians that actually invented a cleaning powder used for cleaning the teeth. Like more modern tooth powders and pastes, it contained an abrasive, but the Egyptians made theirs from crushed pumice, powdered, burnt eggshells, myrrh and the ashes of ox hooves!
The Romans and Greeks invented their own version of tooth powder. It used crushed oyster shells and bones as an abrasive.
It has been reported that an Iraqi musician actually designed the first toothpaste which was apparently so pleasant to use that its use spread right through to Spain under Moorish influence. That was back in the ninth century.
These early tooth powders and pastes were probably rubbed on to the teeth and gums using rags or sticks.
Commercial toothpowders, using chalk, salt or baking soda, became much more widely used in the nineteenth century. Colgate still makes a tooth powder that is marketed in India. By this time, the first toothbrushes were being made and used together with powders.
It wasn’t until the First World War that pastes, often containing hydrogen peroxide and baking powder, became more popular than powders. The paste was soon put into a collapsible tube. The first tubes were made out of lead foil until it was discovered that lead was poisonous!
Colgate can probably be credited with the first toothpaste, containing ingredients in a familiar form and by the 1950s it was becoming more common for fluoride to be added, as it was acknowledged that this helped to strengthen the natural tooth enamel.
Does modern toothpaste do any good?
Most dentists would advise you to maintain an oral hygiene routine at home consisting of regular brushing with a flexible toothbrush and toothpaste together with flossing between the teeth. Toothpaste is part of the process of maintaining healthy teeth and gums, but is not a guarantee that you will never have any problems with your teeth. It is suggested that you make regular visits to your dentist to check that your teeth and gums are in a healthy condition and to pre-empt potential problems before they get too serious.