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The History of Toothpaste – the Good, the Bad, and the Stinky!

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When you wander into the toothpaste aisle at your local drug store today, you are probably bombarded with many different brands of toothpaste that are making numerous different claims about the results you will see if you use them. Some of the different brands claim that they can whiten your teeth, freshen your breath, destroy plaque, protect your gums, and nurture sensitive teeth. Toothpaste has not always been so useful and pleasant to use. Over the course of history, many different methods to keep teeth clean have been tried, and, since history always repeats itself, some are making comebacks. Luckily, though, many of these ancient techniques are staying just where they should – in the history of toothpaste.

Recently, at a museum in Vienna, the world’s first known recipe for toothpaste was discovered. It came from Egypt and included ingredients such as rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and pepper. Once these ingredients were mixed together, they could be used on teeth to help create a dazzling smile. The Egyptians were onto something by including mint in their toothpaste recipe. It is an ingredient that is still widely used. Over the course of history, however, some very different, very odd concoctions were used to try to keep mouths clean.

In the 1700′s, many people scoured their teeth with burnt bread. Some other ingredients in the toothpaste of the 1700′s included dragons’ blood, cinnamon, and burnt alum. Where they were able to find dragons to get the blood for their toothpaste remains one of history’s mysteries. In the 1800′s, charcoal and strawberries gained popularity in teeth cleaning. Many of the teeth cleaning products of this time were in a powder form. One recorded recipe called for myrrh, honey, and sage. If that didn’t fit the bill, another recipe called for cuttlefish bone, cream of tarter, drop lake, and clover oil. People in the 1800′s were not only concerned about keeping their mouths clean; they also wanted fresh breath. In the 1900′s, mouthwash and toothpaste that included chlorophyll and eucalyptus became more widely used. Eventually, scientific discoveries gave us new insight; other ingredients were adopted for use in toothpaste. Some of these include fluoride, triclosan, and sodium monofluorophosphate. Some herbal or natural toothpastes use ingredients that were popular in the past, such as myrrh, strawberry, and mint. As time goes on, toothpaste will probably evolve even more with new discoveries and technologies.

If you only take one thing from this history of toothpaste, let it be that you are truly lucky to have so many dental care products at your fingertips. The days of hunting dragons for their blood or using burnt toast or charcoal to clean your teeth are over. Fresh breath and squeaky-clean, dazzling teeth are now much easier to get than they were in the past. Next time you are lost in the toothpaste aisle, trying to decide which is best, remember just how far toothpaste has come over the years!

Yours in good dental health,

Dr. Debra Bachus


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