Toothpaste has three main ingredients: Abrasives, Fluoride, and Surfactants. Fifty percent of toothpaste is Abrasives which remove plaque and food particles. But that’s nothing compared to crushed bones and shells that were used by the Greeks. Not everyone had a toothbrush so toothpaste is usually just rubbed with fingers, rags, or a branch of a neem-tree or miswak.
Things did not get better in the 1800s. Tooth paste was prepared with burnt bread, cinnamon, or burnt alum. Tooth powder consisted of chalk, pulverized brick, or salt, which can sometimes do more harm than good.
A lot of things happened between 1890s to 1900s: the collapsible tube was invented, so was premixed toothpaste , fluoride was used for the first time, and Volleyball was invented. In the fifties, striped toothpaste was invented, and the ADA approved fluoride use.
Fluoride slows down and reverses enamel erosion but only when mixed with saliva. Natural fluoride can be found in water, plants, and animals. In the US, toothpaste can contain around one thousand parts per million of fluoride and can be up to fifteen hundred in the EU. Fluoride is also sometimes mixed in water treatment plants of certain cities.
Pets and astronauts have special toothpaste that can be swallowed. But, swallowing normal toothpaste could cause nausea and diarrhea. No one wants space diarrhea. Fluoride can also be toxic if swallowed in large amounts. There’s also teeth whitening toothpaste that uses hydrogen peroxide, but it’s the abrasives that do the heavy lifting. Results show up after brushing twice a day for three to four weeks.
Surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which can be found in shampoo, creates foam which distributes paste more evenly. Though I’d imagine that it was a great marketing opportunity to be the first foaming toothpaste. There are also other agents used to prevent the paste from turning to powder, and to help reform enamel.
The three most popular flavour are Peppermint, Spearmint, and Wintergreen, but there are also exotic flavours like peanut butter, apricot, and whisky to name a few. Stannous Fluoride found in toothpaste could also alter taste. Oranges are unpleasant while apples taste great.
In 2007, a toothpaste containing poisonous diethylene glycol was recalled world wide. As you know by now, we put a lot of synthesized chemical in toothpaste, and that’s why there’s herbal and natural toothpaste which uses natural ingredients.
It still blows my mind that people used to make tooth paste out of pulverized bricks and charcoal and then rub it on their teeth with a rag. Come to think of it, there’s probably a hipster out there trying that right now.