What is the history of toothpaste?

Human beings have been anxious to clean their teeth as far back as we know but we have little information about the very early history of toothpaste. We do know that the ancient Greeks and Romans brushed their teeth somehow and that they used substances which contained crushed bones or shells which functioned as abrasives. There are records showing that a Persian innovator in the ninth century manufactured some sort of tooth cleaning product which gained popularity in Muslim Spain; although the exact nature of this product is not known, there are local testaments from the time which claim the product to be both functional and pleasant to taste.

We don't know how these early products were applied to teeth. Early attempts at toothbrushes, we believe, included rags, feathers and certain twigs. The first recorded instance of a toothbrush in the United Kingdom comes in an autobiography from 1690. By this point though, it wasn't toothpaste as such that was being used by people. Instead they favoured tooth powder, a combination of various ground down ingredients, often made at home by individuals and families for their own use. Common ingredients in tooth powder included salt, charcoal, chalk and brick.

It wasn't until after World War I that commercially manufactured toothpaste began to eclipse still largely homemade tooth powder as the most popular agent to clean teeth. These early pastes contained hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and were first put into the now common collapsible tube in 1892. By 1914 fluoride was being added to toothpaste which was probably not too different from that which we use today.

Toothpaste has come a long way and we have many innovators over the years to thank for developing this product which keeps our teeth strong, healthy and clean.