Tooth and Paste

by John Mount, Woodford, QLD.

The ancient Greeks and Romans rubbed their teeth with small sticks wrapped in cloth and coated with the burnt and pulverised heads of mice, moles and rabbits, on the assumption that the toothy attributes of these small creatures would literally rub off on to the user. Other popular cleaners of the time were iron rust, pumice stone and the ashes of dogs’ teeth mixed with honey or human urine.

If the above dental ingredients turn you off, consider the effect of some of the later modern dental chemicals:

  • Hexachlorophene, an antibacterial agent so potent that its use or misuse as a disinfectant proved fatal to babies.
  • Cyclamate, an artificial sweetener now linked to cancer.
  • Chloroform, used as a flavour enhancer and now considered by some to be a cancer enhancer.
  • Even the tubes containing the toothpaste once contained a large amount of lead, which probably leached into the toothpaste.

The standard modern toothpaste consists of around 40 percent abrasive chemicals to remove staining, usually calcium phosphate dehydrate; 20 percent glycerine to prevent the paste hardening; 1.5 percent detergent or foaming agent (sodium laural sulphate is often used); one percent sodium carboxymenthylcellulose as a thickener; one percent flavouring such as spearmint or menthol; and the remaining percentage as water. (Many brands nowadays include small percentages of fluorides and other chemicals such as sodium fluorophosphate, sodium fluoride, and strontium acetate.)

As a child I recall older people often brushing their teeth with common table salt. This not only removed stains but the salt acted as an antibacterial agent or oral antiseptic.

Other early teeth cleaners used were:

  • A mixture of charcoal (often scraped off burnt toast) and honey.
  • Salt and honey.
  • A little bicarbonate of soda mixed with molasses, honey, cream or yoghurt.
  • Bicarbonate of soda mixed with salt and a little rainwater.
  • Dentree toothpowder, made by pickling the end of an eggplant that is nearest the stem for about 10 to 12 months in a
    salt marginally on adult teeth.
  • Toothache relief can be obtained by using balm (Melissa officinalie), or oil of cloves.