Trails of the toothpaste

history of toothpaste
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From starting our mornings with a fresh dollop of it to ending the day with a lingering aftertaste of its funny yet zingy prominence, the toothpaste, paired of course with the toothbrush is a vital part of our everyday lives. Dressed in a flavor profile that ranges from the basic minty ones to the more evolved other ‘spicy’ ones, and carrying indeed pinches of salt across their colorful squeeze out of tubes, toothpastes are among the primal components of oral hygiene. The aid to those squeaky white set of teeth that laughs along with your happiness and grits in shared reverberance of your anger as well as a very essential element of dental health are these toothpastes that have been tried out in numerous combinations of ingredients and formulas over the years to ultimately come to rest in the standard range that we know of today, evolving still though with numerous tweaks and twists in the composition of it, but imparting all through the times every human the gift of a pleasant mouth and face.

Toothpastes of today essentially come laden with some constituents that are basic for all, most notably fluoride that which has been proven to be an effective staver of many diseases of the gums and teeth and is mainly used for its properties that help to prevent cavities. Other major components of toothpaste being abrasives and surfactants, the former is intended to prevent plaque build up or remove it when it occurs and the latter to act as a foaming agent for more efficient glistening and whitening of teeth even though specialty teeth whitening toothpastes also have their own diaspora of ruling. Not to forget flavourants that is something very characteristic of the toothpastey taste we are all accustomed to even when unflavored toothpastes exist as well to cater to those put off by the funniness they have to taste first thing in the morning, not to mention the uneasy aftertaste that lingers and spoils in fact the whole mood of your breakfast. Anti bacterial and remineralizing agents make for the other components of modern day toothpaste, of course to render such benefits to the teeth that helps maintain their natural strength and protects them from the decaying effect possibly worked out by the bacteria in the mouth. However, despite the commonly occurring recipes centered around some combination of all these agents of tooth protection and hygiene as well as aesthetics, there exist a range of all natural and herbal toothpastes that do away even with the basic incorporation of fluoride and includes instead a range of natural extracts and oils as well as other ingredients occurring of their own in the world. Essentially therefore, toothpastes today are more versatile a range of products that have something to suit the fancies of everyone unlike our less privileged ancestors who had to make do with some of the weirdest possible combinations for the sake of their pearlies.

Like so many of the necessities of human life that we are still relying on even in the modern times, the toothpaste too is an early Egyptian invention, well at least in some form of it. Since 5000 BC perhaps, the ancient folks of Egypt had been using a tooth powder that sure would have smacked rather weird given the ingredients that made it up. With powdered ashes of ox hooves, myrrh, powdered and burnt eggshells, and pumice as the components of a practice intended to further dental hygiene, the modern day us would sure be very apprehensive of this particular recipe for it to be finding its way upon our rows of teeth. Whatever that may be, this recipe of the Egyptians came to be improved upon by the Greeks and the Romans with the addition of abrasives like crushed bones and oyster shells as well as charcoal and tree bark. The recipes became more advanced and less unusual with the advancement of time though as a certain recorded formula of the 4th century AD suggests. With ingredients like crushed rock salt, mint, iris flowers and pepper in use by this time around, this sounds like a more viable mixture to put into one’s mouth though the fact remains that the resultant churn of the constituents still yielded a very harsh final product that while cleaned teeth quite efficiently compromised still with the effect it had on the poor gums of our ancestors. In Chinese cultures though, it were ingredients like ginseng, herbal mints and salt that sought to make these toothpaste like products more gentle and yet effective enough in catering to the demands of health and hygiene expected out of them.

Fast forward to the ninth century and we have a rather improbable toothpaste inventor in Iraqi musician and fashion designer Ziryab who popularized a product that was believed to be ‘functional and pleasant to taste’. Though the exact ingredients of this toothpaste are not known for certain, it ended up being used far and wide throughout Islamic Spain whether rubbed on the teeth by means of fingers or rags or applied with early toothbrushes. In the years since then, the evolution that this preparation meant for dental hygiene underwent is not very clear with the latest documentation relating to only as recent as the 18th century. This time it was the Asian nation of Japan with whom rests the claim of improving upon earlier versions of the toothpaste. During the continuation of the Edo period of rule in the country, it had been inventor and first ever Japanese advertising copyrighter Hiraga Gennai who wrote a copy of Hika rakuyo in 1769 advertising the Sosekiko ‘toothpaste in a a box’. Other 18th century ‘developments’ on this front of the toothpaste pertains to the western lands of America and Britain where it was breadcrumbs and sometimes betel nut as well that sought to be helping the pursuit of maintaining the cleanliness and goodliness of teeth!

Earlier references to the toothpaste however would be more appropriate if we term them instead as tooth powder as this agent of dental hygiene did not come to assert its pastey prominence of today till at least the 19th century. While it was indeed in the 1800s that these agents of teeth cleaning came into general use, it was the year of 1824 when a certain dentist named Dr Peabody added soap to abrasive ingredients for enhanced cleaning. Replaced later by the surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate for a better consistency, that which continues to find use in all toothpastes till date, this was what marked the transition of tooth powders into toothpastes though the former version still did prevail as well. In fact, with ingredients like chalk, pulverized brick and salt in use, it still was the powdered form of tooth cleaners that largely defined the oral hygiene scene of the era. Tooth powders began to die out only after the First World War even as the 20th century had already ushered in the use of pre mixed toothpastes, with a particularly popular recipe that called for a mix of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. The toothpaste tube however was an invention of the previous century, having been introduced by Dr. Washington Sheffield in 1892. Colgate & Company followed suit soon thereafter by packaging its dental cream in collapsible tubes. Prior to that, in 1873 Colgate began selling the first commercial toothpaste, smooth and flavorful like the numerous ones of today, in tiny glass jars with the next big step in toothpaste marketing not dawning till the advent of the 20th century.

The year 1908 marked the emergence of the first ever toothpaste with disinfectants. Named the Kolynos, this joint venture by the first ever oral microbiologist Willoughby D. Miller along with dentist Newell Sill Jenkins went on to dominate many of the world markets, with its production in 22 countries and sale in 88 of them by the 1940s. Much later in 1980, the first ever remineralizing toothpaste was launched by the Japanese company, Sangi Co., Ltd., under the name APADENT while in 1987, it was the edible toothpaste that first came into being. Invented by NASA for its astronauts to brush in space without the need of having to spit it out, edible toothpastes today are commonly used by children not used enough to the intricacies of the routine of brushing and tending therefore to swallow such products not intended for ingestion. The first whitening toothpaste made its way a couple of years later in 1989 while the striped toothpaste had been a novelty of the earlier times, being around since 1955. A rather intriguing way of working of the tube in which the toothpaste is packaged leads to the striped result, through the working of something known as ‘thixotropic rheology’. Another interesting blob of information related to the toothpaste is the iconic depiction of it upon a toothbrush, in a wave shaped squirt of it that which is called a nurdle. In such workings of it therefore, through years in history that has seen its evolution in terms of ingredients, functions and features, the toothpaste is a rather revolutionary element of the human world, something quite unexpected for a basic recommended everyday dual dose of its kind.


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