The next time you’re enjoying the minty-fresh feeling in your mouth, consider that toothpaste wasn’t always so tasty. For hundreds of years, civilizations have been perfecting toothpaste formulas to see what works and tastes best.
The first known toothpaste recipe originated from an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll, written 1,500 years before the first toothpaste was marketed in 1873. A mixture of rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and 20 grains of pepper, gave this primitive toothpaste a pungent smell.
Since then, different areas of the world have had various takes on what makes good toothpaste. Romans and Greeks preferred a more abrasive paste, so they included crushed bones and oyster shells in their concoction. Powders of ox hooves and burnt eggshells were common in recipes, and the Romans even added ingredients to make their breath smell better, much like we do today.
It didn’t always come from a tube, either. In the 1850s, “Crème Dentifrice” toothpaste invented a new formula that allowed it to be sold in a jar.This was a step up from the normal powdered toothpaste, which had been used for centuries. By the 1890s, tube toothpaste was taking the world by storm with a design similar to what we still use. With the addition of specialized toothpastes, like ones designed for “sensitive teeth” in the early 1900s, toothpaste formulas began to resemble the modern kind we have today.
Toothpaste has always been meant for cleaning, but when fluoride was added as an ingredient, it could boast that it aided in keeping teeth clean and cavity-free. Studies showed that the addition of small amounts of fluoride actually helped remineralize damaged teeth and kept new decay from forming. By the 1980s, fluoride was an ingredient in almost all toothpastes sold in the U.S.
Throughout the history of toothpaste, there has been one goal: to keep teeth healthy, clean, and white. Just be glad that your tube is spearmint-flavored instead of powdered charcoal.