The History of Toothpaste and Whitening

We do it every day: reach for the toothbrush, dab some toothpaste on, and start brushing. This simple repetitive action is something that’s become second nature to most of us, but do we really know where that minty fresh or fruity paste comes from? When did it begin? Toothpaste actually has a long history filled with colorful ingredients, so let’s take a journey to the past.

Even as early as 2000 BC, people were taking care of their teeth. Egyptians actually used a toothpaste and chew sticks that early. Toothpastes were introduced around 2000 BC and while the “toothpastes” they used weren’t as effective as today’s formula’s, they still prevented a certain amount of tooth decay.


One of the oldest toothpastes was actually concocted by the Egyptians in the 4th century AD. Rock salt, mint, iris flowers, and pepper were crushed together resulting in a powdery substance to clean teeth. While this powder can actually make gums bleed, research has shown that it was just as efficient as toothpaste used one hundred years ago. In fact, dentists have more recently figured out that iris flowers have some benefits in their use against gum disease.

After that, in Greece and Rome, such things as crushed bones and oyster shells were often added to the cleansing powder. Romans added some kind of “flavor” as well although it was substances such as charcoal and bark. During this same period of time, the Chinese and Indians were also using similar materials though the Chinese added Ginseng, mints, and salts for the taste – clearly a step above charcoal and bark!

For several hundred years, there was very little development in toothpaste. Powders and pastes were sometimes used in addition with chewing sticks – if you had the money. The rich had access to these things whereas the poor didn’t.


Barbers began teeth whitening around the 18th century. They doubled as dental surgeons ensuring a shining white smile along with a fresh new haircut.  the barber-surgeons would file down a patient’s teeth with a type of metal file, then dab them with highly-corrosive nitric acid. This made for a dazzling white smile but a destroyed enamel which led to tooth decay – Yikes!

In the 1800’s, there were some minor changes in tooth powders/pastes. Some people actually brushed their teeth with burnt bread while others – notably a dentist called Peabody, decided to add soap to the paste. In 1873, the first commercial toothpaste was sold by Colgate. It smelled good and was manufactured and put in a jar. Another remarkable invention during that time was the collapsible tube, invented by Dr. Washington Sheffield.

Early in the 1800’s Italian dentist began to notice the cavity fighting powers of fluoride. By the 1840s, Italian and French dentists recommended people should start at a young age, sucking on honey-sweetened, fluoride lozenges. In fact, in 1915, American scientists experimented with adding fluoride to drinking water. They were so encouraged by the positive results, that the use of fluorides spread from water to mouthwashes and toothpastes, drastically cutting down on cavities.

The 1900’s had numerous advances in tooth paste. Fluoride became a part of the toothpaste mixture in 1914 after figuring out it decreased cavities. No history of toothpaste would be complete without giving a nod to Claude C. Hopkins, a famous advertiser. He launched the Pepsodent campaign in the early 1900’s which helped toothbrushing actually become a habit.

In the 1970’s, Tom’s herbal toothpastes were also invented. These toothpastes did not contain fluoride. Later on in 1980’s, edible toothpaste came around through NASA. Originally invented for astronauts (who wouldn’t need to spit), it later became training toothpaste for children. It was also during this time that the first whitening toothpaste, created by Rembrandt, came about.

Several of the food and drinks consumed today including coffee, tea, tobacco (smoking or chewing) and red wine stain and discolor teeth. Because of this, teeth whitening is the focus of many people today, all around the world. There is a growing demand for cosmetic dentistry in North America and the teeth-whitening industry has picked up on this, and answered the call with products such as at home whitening or cosmetic bleaching procedures in office.


With so many options – herbal, fruity, minty, whitening – there’s no excuse not to brush your teeth. Thankfully, we’re not using ground up pepper or bread to brush our teeth and chewing sticks are out of vogue. So what are you waiting for? Grab your brush, squirt some of your favorite gel or paste on it, and get brushing those pearly whites.

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