Origins of ordinary things: Toothpaste

Being at arm’s length or closer to a person who hasn’t brushed their teeth can be a torturous experience. They will give off a bad odor every time they open their mouths. You will find yourself involuntarily holding your nose or leaning back when they try to speak to you. Thankfully, because of the existence of toothpaste, most people have acceptable oral hygiene.

The idea of toothpaste is old; it goes as far back as 5000 BC. According to Colgate the oldest toothpaste company, Egyptians, ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have used certain types of paste to clean their teeth and to freshen their breaths before toothbrushes were invented. The ingredients for paste included ashes of ox hooves, eggshells, pumice, charcoal and bark.

Studies show that world’s oldest known formula for toothpaste was made by Egyptians in the fourth century. The ingredients for the teeth-cleaning powder were: mint, dried iris flower and pepper, crushed and mixed together. The 4th century Egyptian toothpaste formula was harsh, resulting in bleeding gums. However, it is said to have been effective in cleaning teeth and giving fresh breath.

According to Spear Education, a knowledge dissemination platform, Colgate was the first company to start the commercial production of toothpaste in 1873. It was sold in jars until 1892 when Dr Washington Sheffield an American dental surgeon made toothpaste and packaged it inacollapsible toothpaste tube. Colgate and other toothpaste-making companies then started making use of collapsible tubes.

In 1914, producers of toothpaste added fluoride to the ingredients in order to protect teeth from dental cavities. At this point, toothpaste contained soap as one of the ingredients. This is according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. However, in order to make toothpaste softer,soap was replaced by other ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate in 1945.

From 1975 onwards, the production of toothpastes of different types, functions and ingredients started. For instance, according to Spear Education, in 1975, herbal toothpaste which is an alternative to fluoride became available. In 1987, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States created edible toothpaste so that astronauts could brush their teeth without spitting since there is zero gravity in space.

Today, toothpaste does a lot more than provide oral hygiene. Certain types can prevent gum disease, whiten teeth, freshen up breath and decrease the sensitivity of teeth.

Other known functions of toothpaste include clearing spots and zits on the face, cleaning and strengthening nails, removing gum from hair, removing stains from surfaces, and sticking up posters.