Tasty Treats For Your Teeth – A Brief History Of Toothpaste


Take one drachma of rock salt – that’s one hundredth of an ounce – two drachmas of mint, one drachma of dried iris flower and 20 grains of pepper, crush them together and …ta-dah! You have just made yourself a batch of the world’s oldest toothpaste.

This recipe was written in Greek on a scrap of papyrus that has been dated to the fourth century AD. The Egyptian scribe added an explanatory note, explaining that the recipe created a “powder for white and perfect teeth.” The papyrus was recently found (again) in the basement of a Viennese museum, with a huge cache of other documents that had been rescued from an 18th century trash heap.

Egyptians would have mixed the paste with a bit of their own saliva and then used their fingers to scour their teeth. Modern dentists who made and then tried the paste said it was harsh on their gums, but left their mouths feeling clean and perky.

They also said that the recipe aligned with traditional home medicinal practices that are still in use around the world. Classical herbals list Iris as good for toothache and for sweetening the breath. The pepper would have stimulated the gums, mint would have added the fresh taste we still love in modern toothpaste, and rock salt would have been a purifying abrasive.

Egyptians had many recipes for tooth powders. Favored ingredients included the powdered ashes of oxen hooves, crushed myrrh, burned egg shells, and powered pumice stone.

The Persians liked using burnt shells of snails and oysters. In China a mix of ginseng, various mints, and salt was the preferred recipe.  The Romans mixed salt, chalk, their own urine and crushed brick into a paste that apparently made their teeth bright and clean (urine’s bleaching and softening abilities were also widely utilized in laundering clothing until a century or so ago).

Many Europeans modeled themselves after the ancient Greeks, cleaning their teeth with a rough cloth (usually linen) or a sponge that they’d dipped into a paste made of ashes, sulfur oil and salt, until well into the sixteenth century. Napoleon Bonaparte thought the whole sooty rag thing was tacky, he used a silver plated toothbrush and expensive, opium-laced toothpaste to scrub his teeth.

In 1873, Colgate released the first mass-produced the first toothpaste. It was called Crème Dentifrice, and was sold in a jar. By 1896, the name had changed to Colgate Dental Cream and it was packaged in collapsible tubes. Fluoride was introduced in 1914 and was quickly added to the majority of toothpastes on the market.

Mint is by far the most popular flavor for toothpaste in the U.S., but companies are beginning to release more unusual flavors to test the market’s desire for a new taste sensation. Crest now offers Mint Chocolate, Lime Spearmint Zest and Vanilla Mint Spark in its “Be” line of toothpastes.

You can purchase toothpaste flavored like bacon, banana, basil, bubblegum, coffee, curry, eggplant, honey, lemon, peach, pumpkin pudding, yoghurt and many more tastes that you never expected to encounter on your toothbrush with a little judicious googling.

No matter what flavor toothpaste you prefer, good oral hygiene and regular dental care is the best way to keep your smile healthy and beautiful. To find out more about how :DentalPlans.com can help you afford quality dental care, call one of our AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163



Join. Save. Smile.