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Have you ever wondered what people used to brush their teeth with before the innovative invention of the minty-fresh paste we all know and love today? It turns out, humans have used various concoctions over the years, ranging from harsh but effective to downright gross. 

It’s probably safe to say that we’re all just a little spoiled with the modern blend of fluoride, gentle abrasives, humectants, and flavorings found in popular commercial brands. However, it’s only been in the last 100 years that our version of toothpaste has been in existence. 

Still scratching your head about what ancient civilization and humans in the not-so-distant past used to clean their pearly whites? Keep reading to learn how this dental hygiene staple evolved through the years, making it what it is today! 

The History of Toothpaste

Did you know that toothpaste was actually invented way before toothbrushes, sometime around 5000 BC? Egyptians are believed to have started this popular trend, using a personal-made paste in order to clean their teeth. Though the first recorded formula dates back to 4AD, their simple mixture contained mint, crushed rock salt, iris flowers, and pepper. 

As you can probably imagine, this formula caused quite a bit of irritation and gum bleeding, but believe it or not, it cleaned teeth incredibly well. Some people would even say it was the most effective oral cleansing treatment used until nearly a century ago. However, crushed rock salt and mint weren’t the only mixtures humans tried before getting it right...

Some people favored toothpaste formulas that featured crushed bone and oyster shells in Roman and Greek societies, and herbal mints, ginseng, and salt in Chinese cultures. Other popular ingredients used in the good ol’ ancient days included pumice, ox hooves, brick dust, ashes, burnt eggshells, chalk, and pulverized charcoal.  

Sounds super appetizing, right? Yeah, we didn’t think so either. 

The development of toothpaste in more modern times started in the 1800s. Early versions almost always contained soap, and eventually, chalk was also thrown in the mix. Around the 1860s in England, their ingredients also included ground charcoal.  

The first type of toothpaste was usually powder, but around the late 1850s, a new toothpaste called a Creme Dentifrice was developed, and in 1873, Colgate started the mass production of it in jars. Colgate later introduced its toothpaste in a tube similar to modern-day toothpaste tubes in the 1890s. 


It’s kind of crazy to think about, but toothpaste formulas contained soap up until 1945 -- that’s less than 100 years ago! After that time, soap was replaced (thankfully) by other ingredients to help turn toothpaste into a smooth paste or emulsion. (If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase, “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap,” came from, now you know!)

It was here in the 1900s that the benefits of fluoride were finally discovered -- but who discovered them?

Great question!

Around the turn of the 20th century, a dentist named Dr. Frederick S. McKay from Colorado couldn’t help but notice that many of his patients had a little something known as dental fluorosis, which causes stains on the teeth. 

In milder cases, it may have appeared as white spots, but in some, the stains were a deep brown. By 1928, McKay began to also take notice that his patients with darker stained teeth also had less tooth decay, leading him to think it had something to do with the water. 

By the early 1930s, it was identified as fluoride. 

Scientists then started examining the relationship between fluoride and tooth decay, especially after it was noticed that children drinking water high in fluoride had fewer cavities. Eventually, it was determined that for children younger than 8, fluoride helps strengthen the permanent teeth developing under the gums, while for adults, drinking water with fluoride continues to support their tooth enamel.  

According to experts, fluoride prevents tooth decay in three ways:

  • It prevents plaque bacteria from producing acid.
  • It’s absorbed into the tooth enamel, preventing the acids from entering.  
  • It remineralizes teeth after attacks by acid-producing bacteria. 

In 1945, in addition to being added to toothpaste, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first to add fluoride to city water. 

Modern Day Formulas

Today, there are many kinds of toothpaste with a wide variety of functions. Have sensitive teeth or need extra help preventing cavities? There’s a toothpaste for that. Need to whiten and brighten your smile? There’s a toothpaste for that too! 

Although there are a ton of different types of toothpaste, the truth is that they are not all created equal. In fact, many kinds of toothpaste on the market include a whole host of harmful ingredients. 

You may not believe that a dollop of toothpaste could cause harm, but it adds up over time! How much does it add up, you ask? According to experts, we’re using a whopping 20 gallons of toothpaste throughout our lifetime.

When looking for a great tube of toothpaste, look for a company with a true passion for providing top-quality toothpaste made with clean ingredients - like Twice

Twice is a revolutionary toothpaste company that truly understands that the mouth is the gateway to overall health -- and it’s true. Preventative care begins with oral care. 

Here are some of the most harmful ingredients commonly found in toothpaste that you’ll never find in a tube of Twice: 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

Originally used to clean floors, this less-than-favorable ingredient is a detergent known to cause microscopic tears in the mouth -- which can lead to a pesky canker sore or two! SLS is used in toothpaste to make it bubble and foam, but there are other ingredients that can be used for the same effect, deeming the addition of this chemical to modern-day toothpaste super unnecessary. 


Derived from red seaweed, carrageenan is a common ingredient that’s added to thicken toothpaste, but it’s been linked to many health concerns, such as gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, and even colon cancer in laboratory animals -- yikes!


Yuck. That pretty much sums up this ingredient. Aspartame is used as a popular sugar substitute and is arguably the most common artificial sweetener used today. It’s found in drinks, foods, toothpaste -- you name it. The big appeal of aspartame is its use in diet and/or low-calorie products. It’s roughly 200 times sweeter than natural sugar, so much less of it is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness, in turn keeping the carbs and calories in drinks and foods relatively low. That sounds great, you say? Why did we say “yuck,” you ask? Well, for starters, aspartame has been known to metabolize inside your body as both a poisonous wood alcohol and formaldehyde. Yes, formaldehyde. Also known as embalming fluid. See? Nuff’ said -- stay away from toothpaste with aspartame! 

Propylene Glycol

What if we told you that your favorite tube of commercial toothpaste contains the same active ingredient in antifreeze and is also used to soften cosmetic products? Kind of gross, right? Propylene glycol is a common toothpaste ingredient that has been linked to damage to the heart, liver, and central nervous system.


This is an interesting ingredient because it is added to personal care products to prevent and/or reduce bacterial contamination. At first glance, you might think this sounds like a great ingredient for your toothpaste, as it works to reduce bacteria, right? Well, you might be surprised to learn that the FDA recently placed a ban on using triclosan in any soaps or body washes on Sept. 6th. Why, might you ask? Because new research has been able to link triclosan to a decrease in thyroid hormones and an increase in antibiotic resistance, as well as tumors in mice. Although the ban was not placed on toothpaste, we’d rather not put anything in our mouths that’s been banned from using on our skin.

A Final Word

From crushed animal bones to fluoride and everything in between, toothpaste has come a long way since first being used by the Egyptians. Additionally, the world of oral wellness has also come a long way, with new light shining down on the importance of oral health. 

You see, a confident smile starts from within -- that’s why it’s so crucial to be aware of what we’re putting in our mouths. 

Back in the day, we were very limited on our toothpaste options, but today, we have choices and can decide whether or not we want to brush our pearly whites with harsh chemicals or not. So rather than grabbing just any ol’ tube of paste from your local market, do a little due-diligence and stick with a great toothpaste that doesn’t only taste great but is made using clean ingredients and no harsh chemicals. 

Stick with a toothpaste like Twice

Whether your goal is preventive care or to whiten and brighten that beautiful smile of yours, Twice products can help!