Toothpaste in one form or another has been around for thousands of years. Evidence exists that Egyptians used a paste made from ox hooves, pumice, and burnt eggshells as far back as 5000 BC.
Hard to imagine that those ingredients freshened breath or reduced plaque, isn't it?
Old-Style Toothpastes and Powders
The Greeks and Romans liked a little more grit so they used ground up bones and shells in their pastes. Romans added powdered charcoal. Abrasion was a popular component in oral health and lasted for centuries before a smoother version of the tooth cleaning agent started to appear. The Chinese were partial to ginseng and other herbs that helped with bad breath and gum health.
Toothbrushes weren't part of the equation, and historians assume that sticks, feathers, or rags were used to apply the concoctions.
Toothpaste in its more modern form started being produced in the 1800s, with soap and chalk often incorporated into the mix. These weren't pastes but rather powders, sold in a jar, to which water was added after.
The Arrival of the Toothpaste Tube
Dr. Washington Sheffield invented the squeezable tube in 1880 after his son saw paint being used in the same fashion in France.
Paste started appearing in the early 1900s in these lead or tin tubes until it was discovered that lead actually leached into and contaminated the paste. As a result of a shortage of alloys after World War II, laminated tubes made from aluminum and paper were introduced soon after, followed by the plastic tubes we use today.
Give These Kids a Shot of Fluoride!
Probably one of the biggest advancements in the efficacy of toothpaste was the introduction of fluoride in 1914, after research showed that it had a dramatic effect on oral health. Dr. William Engler tested toothpaste with fluoride on 400 preschool children and found that cavities were significantly reduced.
Toothpaste in Space
A dental consultant to NASA invented edible toothpaste in the late 80s so that astronauts didn't have to spit in their zero-gravity environment. The mother of invention, right? But it also became useful for children just learning to brush who had a hard time not swallowing, since ingesting too much fluoride can be dangerous.
Too Much Choice?
Today it almost seems like an excess of options in the toothpaste department. Tubes come decorated with the latest kid-friendly characters and flavors. And there are gels, stripes, tartar-reducing, whitening, breath-freshening...and liver-flavored.
Well, okay, that one's for dogs, but you get the idea.
If all this seems too overwhelming, you can always go old school and dip your brush into the box of baking soda.
The Modern Version
Now that burnt eggshells and and ox hooves are no longer in the mix, today's toothpaste consists of abrasives to scrub away bacteria, fluoride to battle decay, thickener to ensure it stays in place when you squeeze it onto the bristles, and enough flavor to hide the nasty taste of detergents and phosphates.
Ingredients are also added so that it doesn't dry out if the top is inadvertently left off.
Use whichever one grabs your fancy and then do your best to follow the brushing guidelines the ADA recommends: 2 x 2, or two minutes twice a day.