The evolution of toothpaste


  Posted by: Dental Design      17th September 2020

Tooth powders and pastes have been used for centuries to clean teeth and freshen breath. These solutions offer a pleasant way to remove bacteria and debris from teeth and deliver active ingredients such as fluoride and antimicrobials to help prevent oral diseases and maintain oral health. Flavours are added to offer a palatable taste and fresher breath, dyes for visual appeal, and abrasives to thoroughly clean and remove stains from the teeth. It has been suggested that some toothpastes may contain over 20 ingredients and while some are formulated to target specific oral health issues, others are considered to be “good all-rounders”. Either way, toothpaste is definitely not a modern invention and its development continues to evolve.

In ancient cultures, people used chewing sticks or twigs as a way of cleaning the mouth and teeth. Yet as early as 3,000-5,000 BC, the Egyptians were making toothpowders from ingredients such as ashes from oxen hooves, myrrh, egg shells and pumice, which was mixed with water and used as a paste. The ancient Persians also used a formula derived from the burnt shells of snails and oysters, gypsum, herbs and honey, but it was not until around 1,000 years later that the Greeks and Romans introduced flavourings such as charcoal and bark to help freshen breath. At about the same time, the Chinese were making toothpastes that were not unlike the pastes we use today – flavoured with herbal mints, salt and ginseng – however, these were mixed together with mashed bones, flower petals and water.[1]

Crude concoctions continued to be used until the industrial age when doctors, dentists and chemists began to create toothpowders. These contained very harsh abrasives such as crushed china or earthenware, brick dust and cuttlefish, yet bicarbonate of soda was used as the body of most of these toothpowders. Interestingly, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder is still added to toothpastes today – it is highly soluble and favoured for its low relative dentine abrasiveness (RDA). It delivers gentle but effective cleaning power with significant acid neutralising and antibacterial capacities. Certainly, studies confirm that toothpastes that contain baking soda enhance plaque removal effectiveness to a significantly greater extent than non-baking soda products.[2]

Towards the end of the 18th century, sodium borate or Borax powder was being added to toothpowders to produce a pleasing foaming effect – a sensory characteristic that has survived the test of time. Indeed, detergents or surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), cocamidopropyl betaine (tego betain) and sodium methyl cocoyl taurate (adinol) are typically used in modern toothpastes to produce foam, which is important for wetting tooth surfaces, dispersing the cleaning agent around the mouth, loosening plaque and debris and ensuring a pleasant sensation whilst brushing.[3] During these early days, chalk as well as strontium was also added to toothpowders as it was thought to strengthen the teeth and reduce sensitivity. In the early 19th century, glycerine was introduced to make toothpowders into pastes but the mass production of toothpaste did not come about until 1873 – when it was supplied in jars – before the collapsible tube came into existence in 1892.

In the history of toothpaste, fluoride is not mentioned until 1914 and it is unclear exactly when the first fluoride toothpaste was produced. However, after some scepticism regarding the toxicity of fluoride and following decades of studies, the use of fluoride in toothpastes was approved and became standard in the late 1950s.[4]During the 1980s, antiplaque agents were introduced to control the accumulation of supragingival plaque and since then, an abundance of ingredients have been added to toothpastes to increase protection, improve oral health and enhance aesthetics.

The evolution of toothpaste does not end here either. Researchers and manufacturers such as Arm & Hammer™ continue to develop advanced toothpastes to address a wide range of dental issues including tooth stains, hypersensitivity, erosion and malodour. Arm & Hammer™ integrate the natural cleaning and oral health benefits of bicarbonate of soda into all its carefully formulated toothpastes but has also developed ground breaking dental technologies to help patients improve and enhance their oral health routine. For example, Arm & Hammer™ Enamel Pro Repair™ toothpaste with Liquid Calcium™ contains calcium and phosphate ions that are deposited on the surface of the teeth, filling and restoring any tiny crevices to make enamel surfaces smoother and whiter. Similarly, Arm & Hammer™ Advance White™ and Advance White™ Pro baking soda toothpaste effectively removes tooth stains and uses Micropolisher Technology™ to gently buff and brighten the teeth.

It is clear that toothpaste has advanced significantly since the days of crushed bones and burnt shells, and it is important to remember that it is still progressing. By recommending a brand that has a rich pedigree of harnessing and developing innovative oral health products and technology, you can ensure that your patients optimise their oral care routine for the best possible results.


For more information about the carefully formulated Arm & Hammer toothpaste range, please visit
or email:

Arm & Hammer oral healthcare products are available at Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons throughout the UK.


[1] Lippert F. An Introduction to Toothpaste – Its Purpose, History and Ingredients. Monographs in oral science. 2013: 23, 1-14. (Accessed 28th July 2020)

[2] Putt M.S. et al. Enhancement of plaque removal efficacy by tooth brushing with baking soda dentifrices: results of five clinical studies. J Clin Dent. 2008;19(4):111-9. [Accessed 28th July 2020.]

[3] Stovell A.G. et al. Important considerations in the development of toothpaste formulations for children. International Dental Journal 2013; 63 (Suppl.2) 54-63. (Accessed 28th July 2020)

[4] Madhuri S.V. et al. Dentifrices: An overview from past to present. International Journal of Applied Dental Sciences 2017:3(4) 352-355.


No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.