Toothpaste hasn’t always been what we know it to be today. Here’s a little history about how toothpaste has changed over time.

Colgate Toothpaste Product Review

The Evolution of Dental Hygiene: Part Two

Updated: 2/4/2020

As we found out last week, the dental products we are so accustomed to using every day didn’t just appear out of thin air. First, someone had to come up with the idea and then others had to find ways to improve it.

Here we’ll see where toothpaste and flossing came from and how it has grown into what it is today. We’ll also look at how these dental practices became a daily habit.


Toothpaste is actually older than the Egyptians’ toothbrush, but it was created with the same intent—to help treat teeth and gums by keeping them clean and improving a person’s breath. However, toothpaste back then was very different from what we know it to be today.

All ancient toothpastes had a similar formation. They were formed into a powder and when the powder was applied to the teeth it would mix with the saliva and clean the teeth and gums. And while this may not seem too strange; it’s what they used to make this powder that may shock you.

Click on image to enlarge

How Toothpaste Has Developed Over Time

It wouldn’t be until the twentieth century that toothpastes would become more modern. Companies began working toward making toothpastes taste good as well as clean teeth. They also worked to use materials for the toothpaste that did not cause the gums to bleed—something of which I think we can all be thankful!


Although evidence of flossing can be found back in ancient civilizations—researchers have found grooves in the teeth of prehistoric humans that imply they used some type of floss—the invention wasn’t officially recorded until 1815. Levi Spear Parmly, a New Orleans Dentist, invented it. He used a piece of silk thread for the floss and promoted his invention to his patients and countrymen.

A significant amount of time passed before floss was produced on a larger scale. The events that follow all contributed to its mass production:

    • In 1882, the Codman and Shurtlett Company from Randolph, Massachussetts, started producing unwaxed silk floss for commercial use.
    • In 1898, the Johnson and Johnson Company of New Brunswick, New Jersey, patented dental floss.
    • Finally, during World War II, Dr. Charles C. Bass created nylon floss. He was also responsible for promoting this important dental hygiene habit.

Making it a Habit

Just as we struggle to make brushing our teeth a habit today, so did our ancestors. It was the French who first recommended brushing teeth on a regular basis at home in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Not long after their push, William Addis from Clerkenwald, England, created the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780, aiding their efforts. And while most people would take up the habit of brushing their teeth, there were still many who did not.

Americans were one such bunch. Although toothbrushes were available in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, Americans didn’t start making tooth-brushing a habit until after World War II. There was strong advocacy at the time for military dentistry so by the time the men came home from war they had made tooth-brushing a habit, which quickly passed on to the rest of the US population.

Hopefully it won’t take a war like that to get us to start brushing our teeth regularly. I think most of us would say that we do; it’s just the flossing and regular dental checkups we have a hard time with now.

What kind of toothpaste do you use?






Natasha is 1Dental’s managing editor and copywriter, focusing content on dental and health news, advice and tips straight from the experts. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and has since been a book editor and now copywriter and managing editor on dental and health. You can find her on Twitter and all of 1Dental’s social networks.

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