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Toothpaste use extends back as far as 5000 BC and has a longer history than toothbrushes. Many ancient civilizations used some type of toothpaste to clean their teeth, though it was often used in powder form rather than as a paste. The history of toothpaste varies within each country, however, and each culture had its own recipes and rituals for keeping the teeth clean. The Egyptians were among the first to use toothpaste and often incorporated ingredients such as charcoal and egg shells into it, and odd ingredients such as soap were common in some areas for centuries. Many experts believe Indian and Chinese cultures also began using it in the 5th century BC.
The Egyptians created their early toothpastes with a variety of ingredients. Some Egyptian toothpaste recipes may have included burned egg shells, ashes from oxen hooves, myrrh, pumice and water mixed together. Many recipes were used before the invention of the toothbrush, however, so the Egyptians used the ends of sticks, often called chew sticks, to apply their toothpaste.
In the early history of toothpaste, it is thought that the ancient Greeks and Romans preferred to add harder objects to their toothpaste recipes in order to create a rough, abrasive paste that would clean well. This was achieved by grinding up oyster shells and bones. Charcoal and bark were also added to Roman toothpaste recipes, as were flavorings to freshen the breath.
The Chinese had a variety of recipes for toothpaste as well, and often utilized herbs and salt in the hopes of cleaning their teeth. To freshen the breath, the Chinese chewed on fragrant sticks from trees. Many experts on the history of toothpaste believe the Chinese also invented the first toothbrush during the 15th century BC.
From the 1800s until 1945, many toothpaste recipes contained soap that provided a smoother texture. After 1945, however, ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate were used for this purpose. The texture of the paste with the smoothing ingredients was much like the toothpastes used in modern times. Chalk was also a common ingredient in toothpastes in the mid-to-late 1800s, and betel nut was regularly included in the common toothpaste recipes used in England.
During the later history of toothpaste, the product continued to evolve. Advanced whitening formulas were created and fluoride was added, for instance. Fluoride was found to prevent tooth decay, and whitening formulas were used to prevent the yellowing of tooth enamel. Specialty toothpastes also became commonplace, including formulas for those with temperature-sensitive teeth, sensitive gums, and dry mouth symptoms.