The History of Oral Care: How Did Our Ancestors Try to Prevent Gum Disease?

Ever wonder when our ancestors began to brush their teeth or use toothpaste? Believe it or not, the toothbrush is one of the oldest devices still in use to this day, and it dates back to as early as 3000 B.C. Early Egyptians crafted devices from sticks and frayed the ends to rub against the teeth1. This tool is the earliest recorded precursor of the toothbrush. Credit for the first “real” toothbrush, however, belongs to the Chinese. In the 1400s they used bamboo to craft the handles of brushes and attached a set of boar bristles for brushing the teeth2.

The popularity of this toothbrush spread to Europe where many Europeans chose to replace the overly abrasive boar bristles with softer horsehairs and even feathers3. In 1780, the first modern toothbrush was created by William Addis4. It featured swine bristles which were set through holes into a carved cattle bone handle and secured by wires. It wasn’t until 1938, when DuPont invented nylon, that the truly modern toothbrush as we know it was created5. Rather than using natural bristles that were generally too harsh on sensitive gum tissue, this new synthetic material was soft, and therefore much gentler. Not only was it easier on the teeth and gums, it was a much more cost-effective option for mass production—especially in combination with plastic handles. By the 1950s, these toothbrushes became the new standard which, with relatively minor design refinements, remains in place today.

The Evolution of Toothpaste

Ancient Egyptians are credited with creating the very first forms of toothpaste. One was made with rock salt, mint, dried iris flowers and pepper crushed together into a powder that, when mixed with saliva, would clean and whiten teeth6. Another documented tooth-cleaning powder was comprised of ashes from oxen hooves, myrrh, egg shells and pumice7. As unappetizing as these concoctions may sound, it is interesting to note that ancient Egyptians understood that effective tooth cleaning required abrasion.

The Romans and the Greeks used ingredients such as crushed bones and oyster shells in their tooth-cleaning powders. In an attempt to make their tooth-cleaning powders more palatable and more effective at combating bad breath, Romans added powdered bark and charcoal to their formulations8. The Chinese and Indians were also creating tooth-cleaning powders at around 500 B.C. The Chinese added ginseng and herbal mints to their powders for flavor. 9 Use of these tooth-cleaning powders continued until the 1800s when people began experimenting with new additives, such as soap10. In the 1850s, the first actual toothpaste was sold to consumers in jars. By 1873, it was mass-produced by Colgate11.

Today, there are seemingly endless varieties of toothpaste available to appeal to different consumer preferences while helping people to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. The array of toothpastes consumers can choose from is enough to make one’s head spin: sensitivity protection, cavity protection, tartar control, plaque control, gum defense, enamel protection, enamel repair, multi-protection, whitening power, night protection, and clinical-strength. Not only do the varieties offer specific purposes, they also come in different consistencies—pastes, gels, liquid gels and even paste/gel combinations. In addition, consumers must decide between varieties that boast the addition or omission of various ingredients. There are toothpastes with mouthwash, baking soda, or peroxide added. Many of these are formulated with alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). In 2011, there were 353 varieties of toothpaste offered by retailers12. So, when it comes to choosing something that plays such a crucial role in the treatment of gum disease,  how do we know what to choose?

Preventing Gum Disease in the 21st Century

For healthy teeth and gums, it is smart to choose an alcohol-free, SLS-free product that promotes exceptional oral health by minimizing gum disease-causing bacteria within the mouth. Preventing gum disease  the natural way begins with oral care products made by Dental Herb Company. Using only the purest and highest-quality natural ingredients, Dental Herb Company products are effective in helping to prevent gum disease when combined with regular flossing and dental hygiene maintenance. These alcohol-free, Truly Natural® products are the smartest choice for healthy teeth and gums.

  1. “History of Toothbrushes and Toothpastes.” Colgate.com. Colgate, 12 June 2006. Web. <http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Oral-Hygiene/Brushing-and-Flossing/article/History-of-Toothbrushes-and-Toothpastes.cvsp>.
  2. Blain, Rebecca. “Dental Hygiene, an Ancient Practice – The History of the Toothbrush.”Ezinearticles.com. Ezine Articles, n.d. Web. <http://ezinearticles.com/?Dental-Hygiene,-an-Ancient-Practice—The-History-of-the-Toothbrush&id=18906>.
  3. “History of Toothbrushes and Toothpastes.” Colgate.com. Colgate, 12 June 2006. Web. <http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Oral-Hygiene/Brushing-and-Flossing/article/History-of-Toothbrushes-and-Toothpastes.cvsp>.
  4. “The Toothbrush: An Oral Hygiene History.” Dentistry.com. Futuredontics, Inc., n.d. Web. <http://www.dentistry.com/daily-dental-care/dental-hygiene/the-toothbrush-an-oral-hygiene-history>.
  5. “The Toothbrush: An Oral Hygiene History.” Dentistry.com. Futuredontics, Inc., n.d. Web. <http://www.dentistry.com/daily-dental-care/dental-hygiene/the-toothbrush-an-oral-hygiene-history>.
  6. Blain, Rebecca. “Dental Hygiene, an Ancient Practice – The History of the Toothbrush.”Ezinearticles.com. Ezine Articles, n.d. Web. <http://ezinearticles.com/?Dental-Hygiene,-an-Ancient-Practice—The-History-of-the-Toothbrush&id=18906>.
  7. Connelly, D.D.S., Thomas P. “The History of Toothpaste: From 5000 BC to the Present.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 02 Sept. 2010. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-p-connelly-dds/mouth-health-the-history-_b_702332.html>.