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Botica Iturbide brand tooth powder (early 20th century, Mexico) from the permanent collection of the Museo del Objeto del Objeto.

Dentifrices, including toothpowder and toothpaste, are agents used along with a toothbrush to clean and polish natural teeth. They are supplied in paste, powder, gel or liquid form. There have been many dentifrices produced over the years, many focusing on marketing strategies to sell products, such as offering whitening capabilities. The most essential dentifrice recommended by dentists is toothpaste which is used in conjunction with a toothbrush to help remove food debris and dental plaque. Dentifrice is also the French word for toothpaste.

Types of dentifrices[edit]


Toothpaste is a dentifrice used in conjunction with a toothbrush to help maintain oral hygiene. The essential components are an abrasive, binder, surfactant and humectant. Other ingredients are also used. The main purpose of the paste is to help remove debris and plaque with some marketed to serve accessory functions such as breath freshening and teeth whitening.

Tooth powder[edit]

Red tooth powder from India

Tooth powder is an alternative to toothpaste. It comes in both a fluoride and non-fluoride version.

History of tooth powder[edit]

Tooth powder was generally used among the Romans, who used a variety of substances, such as the bones, hoofs, and horns of certain animals; crabs; egg-shells, and the shells of the oyster and the murex. They were reduced to a fine powder after having been previously burnt, and sometimes mixed with honey.

Ingredients that were sometimes added were ground myrrh, nitre and hartshorn. Tooth powder was used to clean and whiten teeth and to fix them when loose, to strengthen the gums, and to assuage toothache.[1] Pounded pumice was a more dubious article, though Pliny the Elder[2] says, "dentifrices, too, are prepared from it".[3]

The earliest mention of tooth care among the Romans comes from a poem:

"Calpurnius, I greet you with some quick verse. I sent you, just as you asked me to, clean teeth and a bright smile, the product of Araby, a little powder, noble, fine and whitening, something to reduce the swelling of your little gums, to brush away yesterday's leftovers, so that nothing dingey and nasty might be seen should you part your lips in laughter."

This same reference cites the "utterly repulsive things they do in Spain, according to Catullus: he'd be using his own urine "to brush his teeth and his red gums." [4]

By 1924, diatomaceous earth was mined for tooth powder.[5] In modern times, baking soda has been the most commonly used tooth powder, although this has now been mostly supplanted by commercial toothpastes.[citation needed]


Mouthwashes come in a variety of compositions, many claiming to kill bacteria that make up plaque or to freshen breath.[6] In their basic form, they are usually recommended for use after brushing but some manufacturers recommend pre-brush rinsing. Dental research[which?] has recommended that mouthwash should be used as an aid to brushing rather than a replacement, because the sticky resistant nature of plaque prevents it from being actively removed by chemicals alone, and physical detachment of the sticky proteins is required.

Tooth soap[edit]

Tooth soap cleans gums as well as fissures and pits in teeth using soap. The soap helps remove oils, residue and other contaminants. It is available in many forms including hard, liquid and gel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Plin. H.N. xxviii.49, xxxi.46, xxxii.21, 26)
  2. ^ (xxxvi.42)
  3. ^ Pliny the Elder. "42 - Pumice - nine remedies". The Natural History - Book XXXVI - The Natural History of Stones. 
  4. ^ William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.
  5. ^ "Toothpowder Mountain Built From Shells". Popular Mechanics. Feb 1924. 
  6. ^ "Bad Breath / Halitosis".