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A Brief History of Toothpaste

December 4, 2017 — by John Meola
Tags: Toothpaste Dental Hygiene

At Dental Associates of New England, our dentists offer a wide range of cosmetic dentistry treatments that can enhance the health and beauty of your smile. One way patients can protect dental work and oral health is to practice good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing. Toothpaste is an essential component to effectively brush and something that many of us take for granted. Toothpaste has ancient beginnings, but if you take a closer look at the history of the product, you'll find that early formulations were nothing like the toothpaste we know today. Learn more about the evolution of toothpaste as we take a brief look at the history of toothpaste in this blog from Boston, MA-based practice.

Toothpaste on a toothbrushAncient Toothpastes Were Varied

Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, used toothpaste to clean the teeth and freshen the breath. Ancient toothpaste was made from varying ingredients, such as powdered eggshells, ashes from ox hooves, and pumice. Ancient Greek and Roman types of toothpaste were highly abrasive, made of crushed bones and oyster shells.

This Toothpaste Tastes Like Soap!

Toothpaste remained rather unchanged until the 1800s, when a combination of soap, chalk, and sometimes charcoal, were used to clean the teeth. Like ancient toothpaste, these products were usually in powdered form, only becoming paste-like when combined with water and applied to the teeth. Soap would remain a common ingredient in toothpastes until the 1940s.

The First True Toothpaste

By the 1850s, the first toothpaste resembling what we use today was developed by an American dental surgeon named Washington Wentworth Sheffield. Dr. Sheffield created a ready-made tooth crème, which included mint extracts for flavor, for use on his patients. As the story goes, Dr. Sheffield's patients would request samples of his tooth crème so frequently that he began mass producing his product. Dr. Sheffield's dental crème was even sold in collapsible tubes, just as toothpaste is sold today.

The Rise of Modern Toothpastes

Improvements continued to be made on types of toothpaste and by the early 1900s fluoride was added to many products to prevent tooth decay. Other advances included the development of toothpaste with low abrasiveness to prevent enamel damage and the development of ingredients that reduce tooth sensitivity. By 1945, soap was finally removed from toothpaste and replaced with different ingredients, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, to create an emulsified paste.

Specialized Toothpaste

Much of today's toothpaste is designed to treat specific issues or provide specific results. Today, people can choose a toothpaste designed to do such things as whiten the teeth, reduce dental sensitivity, control tartar, restore minerals to the enamel, or reduce plaque formation for 12 hours. In addition to specialty products, today's toothpaste provides better protection from tooth decay and gum disease, all while tasting better and providing better freshening results.

Luckily for us, toothpaste has come a long way since it's ancient beginnings of crushed bones and oyster shells. In fact, today's toothpaste is more effective (and better tasting) than ever before. When used with brushing and flossing, toothpaste can help prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.

Schedule a Consultation

If you would like help finding the right toothpaste for your needs, or to find out which dental treatments are right for you, we welcome you to contact the Dental Associates of New England to schedule a consultation.