Why We’re Thankful for Modern Toothpaste

The next time you’re enjoying that minty-fresh feeling in your mouth, realize that toothpaste wasn’t always so tasty. Civilizations have been experimenting with toothpaste formulas for centuries to see what works and tastes best.

The first known toothpaste recipe is found in an Egyptian papyrus scroll written 1,500 years before the first toothpaste was marketed in 1873. A mixture of rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and 20 grains of pepper gave this primitive toothpaste a pungent kick.1

Since then, different cultures have had various takes on what makes good toothpaste. Romans and Greeks preferred a more abrasive paste, so they threw in crushed bones and oyster shells. Powders of ox hooves and burnt eggshells were common in recipes, and the Romans even added ingredients to make their breath smell better, much like we do today.2

It didn’t always come from a tube, either. In the 1850s, “Crème Dentifrice” toothpaste was sold in a jar.2 This was a step up from the powdered toothpaste that had been used for centuries. By the 1890s, toothpaste in modern-looking tubes was taking the world by storm.2 With the creation of specialized toothpastes in the early 1900s, like ones designed for “sensitive teeth,” toothpaste formulas began to look quite modern.2

Toothpaste has always been meant for cleaning, but when studies showed that the addition of small amounts of fluoride help remineralize damaged teeth and keep new decay from forming, toothpaste began to be seen as something to help teeth stay clean and cavity-free. By the 1980s, fluoride was an ingredient in almost all toothpastes sold in the United States.

Throughout history, toothpaste has existed to keep teeth healthy, clean, and white. Just be glad that your tube tastes like spearmint, and not powdered charcoal.


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