Today you walk in to your modern dentist’s office, you get an exam – maybe get some x-rays, and they can tell you exactly what is going on in your mouth. They have advanced tools and treatments for every possible tooth or mouth problem.

Obviously, technological advances have helped a lot in the world of dentistry, but when did care for the teeth even start or become popular? It all had to start somewhere – but you’ve probably never thought about it. How did oral care develop? Who came up with toothpaste?

Toothpaste wasn’t always around. We have learned that it dates back to about 5000 BC! Egyptians used to use a type of powder to clean their teeth with their fingers. However, it was also said that in China (around this same time period) twigs and bones were ground up and mixed with water, salt, and flower petals to make a paste that was rubbed on the teeth.  It is also recorded that in Rome, there was supposedly a urine-based toothpaste! That wouldn’t be a popular flavor today – I believe we’ll stick with peppermint and wintergreen!

So when was modern toothpaste created, the kind we buy in tubes today? This “invention” happened in Britain in the 1870’s when British chemists perfected the ancient recipes by adding abrasive substances like brick dust and crushed china. “Abrasion” was believed to be the best method of teeth cleaning at this time, and it is still practiced today, but in moderation and at your dentist’s office. At this time in Europe the first toothbrush was also created. It was made by William Addis as a better alternative than using your fingers, and originally used swine hair bristles.

In the 1890’s, toothpaste went through a marketing spurt and became more popular in America. It was also the time when toothpaste began being distributed in a collapsible tube. Even though the Americans did lead the toothpaste advertising for this period, we did not become frequent users until after World War II when the GI’s returned with toothpaste from Europe. This would also begin the fluoride era, and the removal of soap from pastes in 1940.

As for toothpaste today, there are many types and brands with their own identifiers. Whitening toothpastes, baking soda toothpastes, breath freshening toothpastes – we have many choices. Natural toothpaste has been resurrected and is growing in popularity.  You can also purchase toothpaste for sensitive teeth and gums. You can always ask your dentist which toothpaste type they recommend for you.

The addition of fluoride to toothpaste is considered the most important introduction to the world of dental health – finally there was an ingredient to fight cavities and help whiten teeth. Another advance in toothpaste ingredients is the use of Triclosan, which is considered the equivalent of fluoride, as it fights bad breath, gum disease, and plaque.

The technology and possibilities of toothpaste continue to evolve, and will no doubt change over the coming years as new discoveries and advances are made, and popular products are fine-tuned.  New brands are constantly being created and competing with the greats like Colgate and Crest. But as your dentist would add, regardless of the toothpaste brand you like, the most important thing is  that you brush twice a day!