Earliest evidence of using something to clean the teeth dates back some 6,000 years to early China and India. Toothaches were common in those days, and anyone who could find a cure would have been very popular. Huang Ti was busy studying the cause of toothaches, hoping to find that elusive cure, when he decided toothaches could be cured by gold or silver needles inserted in the gums. Toothpaste is believed to have evolved from this idea.
Some of the earlier substances human beings used to clean their teeth included crushed bones, egg shells and oyster shells, ground up chalk and lemon juice, ashes, and tobacco mixed with honey, none of which sounds too tasty. Most mixtures were abrasive and used to clean debris from the teeth, as needed. Toothpowder was developed using powdered charcoal, powdered bark and flavoring agent to improve the taste. This toothpowder was applied on the teeth using a stick (a precursor to our modern toothbrush). Not much is known about dental hygiene in the period between these ancient times to our current practices. It can be assumed these types of tooth cleaning methods were continued without much change until the 18th century.
Toothpowder and paste was used in Britain in the late 1700’s, sold in small ceramic pots. The concoction could be applied with a brush or a person’s fingers.
The toothpaste we know today was developed by a dentist called Peabody, who was the first to add soap into toothpaste in 1824. Mass production of toothpaste began in 1873. Dr Sheffield’s Crème Dentifrice was the first toothpaste sold in a collapsible tube in 1892.
Today, consumers are faced with a myriad of choices in toothpaste. There are toothpastes to whiten, strengthen, protect and cure bad breath. And while toothpastes have come a long way from ground up chalk and lemon juice, in a pinch we can still make our own toothpaste. A simple recipe for homemade toothpaste includes baking soda, salt, glycerin and peppermint extract. Plain baking soda may also be used.
Ever resourceful, people have found uses for regular toothpaste (not gel-types) beyond just brushing their teeth. Toothpaste can be used to shine chrome and fine jewelry, to patch holes in the wall, even as a cure for pimples!
Whatever you choose to clean your teeth, be thankful you live in a time when you are able to use something other than crushed oyster shells to do it.