Brushing before bedtime II

Collapsible metal tubes were first patented in the U.K. and in the U.S. back in 1841. They were originally used to hold artist’s paint, making it easier for artists to travel with their art supplies and more easily do paintings on location in villages and fields. Now toothpaste could make a leap forward from the days of powders and jars.

The first “tube” of toothpaste was believed to be invented when Dr. Sheffield introduced his ‘Crème Dentifrice’ toothpaste in 1886. He is likely the first to use such tubes for toothpaste.

The first ads for ‘Zonweiss’ appeared in 1886, Johnson & Johnson’s first year in business, and our 1887 price list includes ‘Zonweiss’ tooth cream as the Company’s first consumer product among the sterile surgical products and medicated plasters.

Most teeth-cleaning products in 1886 were tooth powders: you had to dip a wet toothbrush into some tooth powder, or gently tap tooth powder onto your toothbrush (without accidentally tapping the container too hard and spilling the powder) and then add water.

Tooth creams take over from tooth powder

The first squeezable toothpaste tube

As a tooth cream (similar to toothpaste), ‘Zonweiss’ eliminated that step and was a lot easier for consumers to use. It came in a cobalt-blue glass jar, with a tiny spoon for people to use in applying it to their toothbrushes — to avoid the unsanitary practice of having multiple people dipping their toothbrushes into the same jar.

It was eventually decided to repackage it in what was said to be the first squeezable toothpaste tube, ( actually imitating ‘Sheffield’s invention of 1886),

There was a collapsible tube manufacturer in New Brunswick, New Jersey – “The Consolidated Fruit Jar Manufacturing Company” (despite its name, that company also made tins with shaker tops and collapsible tubes.)

The always ingenious Johnson brothers used them as their source, as ‘Johnson & Johnson’ was already buying fruit jars from them to package sterile surgical gauze and dressings. The fruit jars could be hermetically sealed to keep the contents sterile.

Toothpaste tubes come into being

Unfortunately, despite the catchy promotion and practical use, and despite the fact that the company offered pharmacists a very popular clock as a promotion, also the then “new” collapsible tube idea, the product couldn’t compete with the rising tide of alternatives. 

World War II produced a lead/tin shortage and that, combined with the fact that lead leaks into the toothpaste, lead to the development of plastic tubes.

The advertising genius that was Pepsodent

An interesting example of toothpaste history, as a single brand is that of ‘Pepsodent’ toothpaste, which anyone over the age of 60 will know very well due the amazingly successful promotion, probably the first of such success. It was introduced in the United States in 1915 by the ‘Pepsodent’ Company and was so named as the original formula for the paste contained pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins.  

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!”

From 1930 to late 1933 a massive animated neon advertising sign, featuring a young girl on a swing, hung on West 47th Street in New York’s Times Square (featuring in the original film “King Kong” in an establishing shot of Times Square itself.)

Following the acquisition of the ‘Pepsodent’ Company by the Unilever company by in 1944, sales of ‘Pepsodent’ in the UK increased rapidly, more than doubling between 1944 and 1950.

The company outgrew its original factory in Park Royal, Chicago and the manufacture of the product was moved to the factory of another Unilever-owned toiletry manufacturer, Joseph Watson and Sons of Whitehall Road, Leeds (UK), in 1951.

‘Pepsodent’ was a very popular brand before the mid-1950s, but its makers were slow to add fluoride to its formula to counter the rise of other highly promoted brands such as Crest and Gleem (more recently resurrected as an electric toothbrush) from Proctor and Gamble.

Consequently, against the barrage of cavity fighting properties,  by these and Colgate toothpaste (from Colgate); sales of ‘Pepsodent’ subsequently plummeted. Today ‘Pepsodent’ is known as a “value brand” marketed primarily in discount stores and retails for roughly half the price of similarly sized tubes of Crest or of Colgate.

However, those over 60 will always remember its best-known slogan was “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!”

 Fluoride was only introduced to toothpastes in the 1960s.

Pepsodent is still sold as a Unilever property in all markets except the United States and Canada. In 2013, Pepsodent was ranked 201st among India‘s most trusted brands according to the Brand Trust Report 2013 India study.

Today’s toothpastes are rather smooth, which is very unlike the substances used in years past – earlier, the essence of early tooth care was “abrasion,” and it stayed this way for a very long time and even though “abrasion” is still a component in modern toothpastes, it’s much less prevalent than it used to be.

The development of plastic over metal toothpaste tubes.

Abrasion was significantly reduced during this time too, and more synthetic ingredients were added (such as sodium lauryl sulphate, which is a foaming agent), as well as sweeteners. Also, fluoride toothpaste became the de facto standard during the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

From the 1980’s to the present day have seen all kinds of additions — gels, whitening agents, toothpaste for sensitive teeth and so on. It’s almost hard to keep up, really.

Herbal toothpastes

Herbal toothpastes have become available as an alternative to cleaning teeth – but without fluoride. These toothpastes include ingredients like peppermint oil, myrrh and plant extracts. My preference is the product containing aloe vera, but more of that later.

NASA and toothpaste

In 1987 in answer to the ‘Space race’, edible toothpaste was invented. What is mainly used by children just learning to brush their teeth was actually invented by NASA, so that astronauts could brush their teeth without spitting into a zero-gravity abyss.

During much of the middle and later decades of the 20th century, the most significant change in toothpaste was the development of medicated products intended to remedy diseases and/or conditions of the teeth and/or gums. The current trend, which started to emerge at the start of the 21st century, is the demand for toothpastes that whiten the teeth and give them a dazzling shine.

A relatively new ingredient called Triclosan provides another level of protection against cavities, plaque, gum disease, and bad breath. While triclosan added to toothpaste has been shown to help prevent , there’s no evidence that antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan are any more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain illnesses, according to the FDA.

Swallowing toothpastes

Hence one has to wonder about its use in toothpastes which may be swallowed. Many manufacturers have started removing this ingredient from their products.

Even among children, eating fluoride containing toothpastes – fluoride poisoning is rare, but it is estimated that over 80 percent of suspected fluoride over-ingestion reports are tied to kids under 6, which leaves 20 percent for older kids, and even adolescents or adults. No matter how old a person is, a phone call to the local medical call centre is prudent if it’s suspected that someone has ingested too much toothpaste that contains fluoride. 

There are other ingredients you should watch out for because they can also cause some problems. Toothpaste that helps combat sensitivity, for example, contains a nitrate that can cause issues if large amounts are consumed, such as diarrhea

Basically, swallowing a little toothpaste during your oral hygiene routine won’t make you sick, but definitely don’t make a habit of not spitting it out because it can really do a number on your body if you swallow too much. 

Also, there are more and more fluoride-free toothpastes hitting the market, both for children and adults. Training toothpaste meant for kids, for example, can contain a sweetener called sorbitol, which can have a mild laxative effect (this means diarrhea).

Tooth whitening toothpastes

In 1990, the ‘Rembrandt toothpaste’ brand was developed and owned by closely held Den-Mat Corp, (a large dental materials company) which had been founded in 1974 by dentist Dr. Robert Ibsen. It claimed to whiten and brighten your smile and used peroxide. Most whitening toothpastes use less concentrated versions of what dentists use in their offices’.

Constituents and purpose of toothpaste

Toothpaste is a paste or gel dentifrice used with a toothbrush to clean and maintain the aesthetics and health of teeth. Toothpaste is used to promote oral hygiene: it is an abrasive that aids in removing dental plaque and food from the teeth, assists in suppressing halitosis, and delivers active ingredients (most commonly fluoride) to help prevent tooth decay (dental caries) and gum disease (gingivitis).

Besides calcium carbonate, other types of abrasives in toothpaste include dehydrated silica gels, magnesium carbonate, silicate, particles of aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3), calcium carbonate (CaCO3), various calcium hydrogen phosphates, various silicas and zeolites, and hydroxyapatite there is polyethylene glycol which has the potential to cause hypersensitivity.

The future of toothpaste

The future of toothpaste appears safe. The history of hype and promotion will no doubt continue too. While some will buy whatever is ‘touted’ as being the one that whitens’ brightens, who knows perhaps even straightens (joke) teeth, many will seek a move away from questionable chemicals such as diethylene glycolpolyethylene glycol and fluoride.

Now we seem to be moving to the more natural pastes and gels. Do they work as well – I think so. Probably,  the more natural you can get, the better off you are.

So, what toothpaste do I use?

My choice of toothpaste as a dentist.


In the past, despite trying many toothpastes, as a dentist I would have said a common commercial brand would be fine, but a recent chance conversation with a friend has changed my preference and practice.

I now use a non-fluoride containing toothpaste, mainly because as you get older you’ve accumulated an increase of fluoride in the surface enamel anyway and providing your diet is ‘decay-sensible’ why use fluoride?

I’ve also tried to move toward a more natural recipe although certain constituents remain as requirements to do the job well. It’s not as cheap as on the shelf brands, but then, it’s a premium product. After using this aloe vera based product, I was sold.

It seems to clean my teeth, my gums remain healthy, my breath is fresh, and my teeth feel clean and that feeling seems to last longer too – basically it seems to do all I want using a known natural healing agent and without using a high chemical base.

I’ve been very impressed, so much so that In fact, I became a distributor. So impressed that I’ll be adding a review shortly.

Dr. Stephen Bray 2020

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