Facts That Figure: Brushing Up on Toothpaste

Facts That Figure: Brushing Up on Toothpaste

By: C.G. Hoffman

When you brush your teeth tonight, consider yourself lucky as you contemplate your choices of mint-flavored, cinnamon flavored or even bubble gum flavored toothpaste. If you had lived in ancient times, you might have had to choose between concoctions made of oxen hooves or sand!

  • Ancient Egyptians developed the first known toothpaste, made of oxen hooves, myrrh, eggshells, pumice, and water.
  • The Gemara mentions many instances of oral hygiene. The Yerushalmi mentions a kisem, a kind of toothbrush made of wood, used to clean the teeth. Rabbi Yochanan treated his bleeding gums with a mixture of leavening water, salt and olive oil.
  • If you had lived in the 1700’s, you may have crushed up a piece of burnt toast to clean your teeth.
  • Tooth powders for use with toothbrushes came into general use in the 19th century, containing chalk, salt, or pulverized brick. The entire family would dip their toothbrushes into the single jar of powder, eventually building up entire colonies of bacteria in them.
  • William Colgate started his company in the early 1800’s by making soaps and candles. The first commercial toothpaste was introduced by the company in 1873. It was sold in a glass jar, and had a minty flavor, an innovation for its time.
  • Dr. Washington Sheffield considered the use of a jar unhygienic, and he invented the first collapsible toothpaste tube in 1880.
  • The use of fluoride to strengthen teeth came about through accidental discovery. When Frederic McKay opened up his new dental practice in Colorado Springs, he saw that many of his patients had brown stains on their teeth. Upon researching it further, he discovered that these patients’ teeth were also highly resistant to tooth decay. It took another twenty years of research to uncover the source: unusually high levels of fluoride in the water. A miniscule amount of fluoride added to toothpaste and later to communal water supplies gave people the benefit of fluoride without the staining, and cavities started dropping dramatically.
  • Have you ever had the misfortune of drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth? The reason it tastes so terrible is because of one ingredient: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or SLS. SLS helps the toothpaste become foamy and spread easily but also suppresses receptors in your taste buds that pick up on sweet flavors.
  • Aquafresh was the first company to sell striped toothpaste in 1973. It originally had two colors, blue and white, and clever marketers used images of the ocean and cresting waves to convey an image of “freshness” in consumers’ minds.
  • Toothpaste formulations haven’t changed much since the 1960’s, and many manufacturers are trying to change their formulas to reflect current demand for more natural ingredients. Today’s health food store shelves boast toothpaste based on baking soda, essential oils, and charcoal, all-natural ingredients that can be equally effective at keeping tooth decay at bay.

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