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A quick brush over the history of toothpaste....

Dr Rachel blog on toothpaste tabletsHi from Dr Rachel!

You interested people are about to learn how a dried iris flower, myrrh and eggshell powder transitioned into what we know today as toothpaste. How did we all get to using a product that is up to 42 per cent water and sold in environmentally harmful plastic tubes to clean our teeth twice a day?                                                         

5000BC. It was the Egyptians who came up with the oldest recognised toothpaste formula. They made a powder concoction including mint, crushed rock, dried iris flowers and myrrh which was recorded as being very effective. The downside was that it caused sore, bleeding gums. Many people say this first formula was the most effective at cleaning teeth until a century ago The Egyptians were obviously a clever bunch! This means the first ‘toothpaste’ was likely to have been this powder with the water added at the time of use.                          

History of Toothpaste- Egyptians

The Romans added more flavours, like charcoal powder and bark, to try and mask their bad breath. They even reportedly used urine as mouthwash! I am glad I wasn’t around in the Roman times.

Ancient Greek societies favoured oyster shells for abrasiveness and Chinese cultures in 500BC preferred ginseng, herbal mints and salt.

 toothpaste tablets - history of toothpaste

Brick dust, chalk and areca nut are some of the many other ingredients used to clean teeth historically. Which of these options appeal to you? I don’t fancy taking my chances with any of them                                                                                        toothpaste tablets - history of toothpaste

1780. People in Britain (and elsewhere) scrubbed their teeth with burnt bread! That is completely true so no need to feel disappointed about burning your toast, you are adding an 18th Century teeth cleaning habit to your breakfast.

soap toothpaste    In 1824, soap was added to the concoction by a dentist named Peabody. Soap helped the toothpaste to foam. Later in the 19th Century, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) replaced soap - which enabled the smooth paste we are familiar with today. This was the turning point that transformed the powder of earlier ages into a smooth paste and the most likely time water started to become an ingredient too.

toothpaste powder

Toothpastes grew in popularity - it's thought they were provided for free to First Class passengers on Titanic’s doomed voyage in 1912 – but they did not surpass toothpowder until the First World War. To this day, SLS remains an ingredient in many toothpastes, though it has been proven that it can cause irritation to the tissues inside the mouth. We’re proud to say our tooth chews contain no SLS.

In 1873 Colgate launched the first commercially produced toothpaste sold in a glass jar – it was also advertised as ‘nice smelling’.

history of toothpaste    In 1892, Dr Washington Sheffield was the first person to put toothpaste in a collapsible tube. His son saw painters using paint from tubes in Paris which gave him his idea. The original toothpaste tubes were made of lead but this was changed to plastic when there was a metal shortage in the Second World War. Dr Sheffield would not have known these toothpaste tubes would become such a huge problem in the present day for the environment.


1914. Fluoride is added to toothpastes after medical studies show its benefits to teeth. This is a controversial topic so there will be a separate article on the benefits of fluoride (and why some people might think they shouldn’t use it). As dentists, Dr Rob and I strongly recommend fluoride. It is a naturally occurring mineral found in the earth’s crust, plants, air and all water sources. Fluoride is also the only ingredient scientifically proven to prevent cavities, and the only ingredient recognised by the FDA for caries prevention. The American dental association approved fluoride containing toothpastes in the 1950s. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) currently recommends the use of a fluoride containing product with a toothbrush twice daily. That is why we have fluoride in our tooth chews.


1987. Edible toothpaste is invented by NASA (everything NASA does is pretty cool right?) for astronauts in space so they didn’t need to rinse and spit. It is still used today by children while they learn to brush.

1989. Rembrandt invented the first toothpaste that was marketed with ‘whitening’ properties.

Present Day. There are currently many different toothpaste options, some containing fluoride and some natural ones without fluoride. Each toothpaste aims to solve different oral health concerns. We now have toothpastes aimed towards preventing cavities, preventing sensitivity, improving gum health and enamel strength and of course ones which claim to whiten your teeth. They all have different active ingredients, though they all contain large volumes of water and they are packaged inside significant volumes of unnecessary plastic.

If you are still reading this article, congratulations for getting to the end. Well done for being interested in how we got to using so much plastic and water in our toothbrushing regime.


At Chews we embrace everything history has taught us but we use our current knowledge on oral health and environmental impacts to ensure our products give you the best protection for your teeth without harming the environment.

 As dentists we believe our Chews contain all the necessary ingredients from toothpaste to achieve optimum health results but we have not included any components that harm the environment. Thanks for reading! 


Dr Rachel