So what came first, the toothbrush or the toothpaste? According to the historical record, toothpaste was used to clean teeth long before the toothbrush was invented. Egyptians are believed to have started using a paste to clean their teeth around 5000BC. Ancient Greeks and Romans are also known to have used toothpastes, and people in China and India first used toothpaste around 500BC.
Ancient toothpastes were used to treat some of the same concerns that we have today – keeping teeth and gums clean, whitening teeth and freshening breath. However, the ingredients of ancient toothpastes were very different than what we use today. Ingredients used included an appetizing combination of ox hooves’ ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice. The Greeks and Romans favored more abrasiveness and their toothpaste ingredients included crushed bones and oyster shells. The Romans added more flavoring to help with bad breath, as well as powdered charcoal and bark. The Chinese relied on more palpable substances in toothpastes, included ginseng, herbal mints and salt.
Toothpaste as we know it came into general use in the 19th century. By 1900, a paste made of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda was recommended for use with toothbrushes. Pre-mixed toothpastes were first marketed in the 19th century, but did not surpass the popularity of tooth powder until World War I. Fluoride toothpastes to help prevent decay were introduced in 1914.
Toothpastes with very low abrasiveness were also developed and helped prevent the problems caused by overzealous brushing. The most recent advances in toothpastes have included the development of whitening toothpastes, and toothpaste containing Triclosan which provides extra protection against caries, gum disease, plaque, calculus and bad breath.
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