Image of Toothpaste container from ancient Egypt

Pharaoh’s Toothpaste
Courtesy of: Craig Sommer DDS

Trying to decide which tooth paste to use is really complicated.

Do you pick the oldest formula ever discovered? Or do you use the one advertised last week on TV with more additives than you could ever hope to pronounce? Or do you use the latest bacon flavored toothpaste?

It’s a tough decision unless you understand why you’re using toothpaste to begin with. Think you know?

The ancient Egyptians figured it out and had a “toothpaste” formula recorded in 4 AD. According to The UK Telegraph, the world’s oldest known formula for toothpaste was discovered hiding in the basement of a museum in Vienna, Austria.

Drawn by hand, on that now dusty piece of Egyptian papyrus, was a ancient physician’s formula for a tooth cleanser, consisting of pepper, dried mint, dried Iris flowers, and rock salt carefully ground into a powder. The  “powder for white and perfect teeth” according to the translator.

Image of pepper, dried mint, dried Iris flowers, and rock salt carefully ground

Ancient Egyptian formula for tooth paste. Pepper, dried mint, dried Iris flowers, and rock salt carefully ground. Courtesy of: Craig Sommer DDS,

Though it’s not quite the paste you and I are used to that would squeeze out of a tube as depicted above. The mixture, when moistened with water, was the best thing going. You could call it the first “natural” toothpaste. Undoubtedly, other formulas were used before this one, but we have no written records of them or their celebrity endorsements. It put a smile on Nefertiti’s face.

Image of happy ancient Egyptian woman toothpaste user

Smiling ancient Egyptian toothpaste user, Nefertiti.  Courtesy of: Craig Sommer DDS

Cleopatra Knew How To Be More Attractive

Why did the Egyptians bother formulating a tooth powder? They knew, like many people today, that teeth develop a yellowy sticky film that leads to cavities, sore gums and foul smelling breath. I can imagine Cleopatra getting ready to meet Marc Anthony, scrubbing her teeth with the ancient Pharaoh’s formula or something similar, and checking out her smile in a polished copper mirror. Not totally out of the question.

Cleopatra in copper mirror observing her beauty.

Cleopatra observing her beauty after using ancient Egyptian toothpaste. Reflection courtesy macshadowscombo on youtube

What Did They Use For Toothbrushes?

The ancients didn’t have toothbrushes at the corner grocery store then, so they likely used small sticks with the bark peeled off the ends and the fibers split apart by chewing. The fibers were moistened with water, dipped into the tooth powder and the “tooth paste” scrubbed against the teeth and gums. Not fancy, but crudely effective. They didn’t worry much about which tooth paste to use as their choices were very limited.

Today, we can almost experience brain damage as we walk the toothpaste isle with hundreds of combinations of flavors and colors. We are paralyzed with indecision, as our colorless hands clamp the shopping cart. The Egyptians didn’t have that problem. They just got the job done the best they knew how.

Image of chewing stick the ancient toothbrush

The ancient toothbrush or chewing stick

Remove That Sticky Film

That sticky film is no different today than what it was thousands of years ago. Since the health of your teeth contributes to an increased life expectancy today, Egyptians that cared for their teeth probably lived much longer than average thousands of years ago.

The sticky film that collects on teeth is what leaves them with a fuzzy feeling. It’s almost invisible initially, gradually thickening each day.

When describing what I see to my patients I’ll ask them, “Can you feel anything on your teeth with your tongue? Feels like your teeth are wearing little sweaters doesn’t it?”


Once they recognize the sticky film and where it tends to grow, they can better go about removing it. It consists of clumps of  bacteria, millions of them, growing on  leftover food. Scrubbing away the bacteria clumps leaves the teeth feeling slick, smooth and beautiful.


I’ll sometimes refer to that fuzzy layer build-up as moss with my younger patients. They will often ask if they have been keeping the moss at bay on subsequent visits. It grows naturally every day in the warm moist environment of the mouth. It’s like the slippery stuff growing on rocks in a stream except, on rocks, it’s green.

Nobody wants teeth that feel like they’re wearing sweaters or that look a dingy yellow so that’s one reason why you use toothpaste.  It isn’t absolutely essential to remove the sweaters or the film, but it’s very helpful and tastes refreshing.

Why Toothpaste?

It makes it easier to remove the “mossy”  bacteria clumps, oozing with acid, that’s slowly dissolving your teeth. The acid eventually results in cavities, the holes produced by this sticky bacteria layer.

Toothpaste on a brush or chewing stick helps to break-up the sticky clumps of bacteria (plaque) all the way down to the tooth surface. All of this plaque needs to be removed because way under the deepest layers of bacteria is where the destruction takes place.

Cleaner teeth not only have fewer cavities,  they look better, last longer, and make for better smelling breath too. All good reasons to clean your teeth using your favorite toothpaste, whether a store bought major brand toothpaste or a home made natural variety.

Natural Toothpaste

Natural toothpaste formulas have been available for many years. Recently, various formulas include coconut oil, peppermint oil, almond oil, salt, fine white clay, and baking soda. There are many other ingredients that are used with the ones mentioned above in various proportions to yield hundreds of varieties of formula. If you have any questions as to which recipe would be the best for you, consult your dentist.

Dental researchers frequently try to improve upon the natural toothpaste formulas with additives. Some advocate adding a variety of chemicals, including fluoride, detergents, flavoring agents, abrasives and dyes or colorants. As a rule I tend to avoid as many of the chemical additives as possible in the toothpastes I recommend.

Is Cost A Toothpaste Consideration?

Toothpaste brands are available in staggering numbers. Just walk down the aisle of your local grocery store or pharmacy and you can find toothpastes from floor to eye level as far as you can see. Okay, that’s a little exaggeration, but it is often mind boggling.

If you are trying to  economize, you can make your own with baking soda, salt, peppermint oil and coconut oil. It might not taste quite as delicious as some of the store-bought varieties but it can be quite inexpensive and still do the job well while avoiding chemical additives.

If cost is no object, there are specialty toothpastes that are formulated exclusively from plant extracts and natural calcium carbonate. Yes, they may cost double or more than the amount of major brand toothpastes, but how much toothpaste are you using in a month?

These do a great job of taking care of teeth and gums with few to no harmful chemical additives and I find myself using them most of the time. Use just a little bit, about the size of your little finger nail.

At the lower end of the cost spectrum of store bought toothpastes are the house-branded ones. They have the basics, may not be as colorful, but likely have all of the chemical additives you would like to avoid.

Chemical Additives To Avoid

The two chemical additives that I get the most comments about in my office are fluoride and the detergents. Detergents? Soap in my toothpaste? Technically, soap and detergents are really not the same. They function similarly in that they help to loosen plaque, which is the fancy term for the yellowy sticky film on your teeth.

The soap or detergents help to float the bacterial debris away from your teeth and keep it from re-attaching. These are the ingredients that make you foam at the mouth when you brush your teeth.

I find some patients are incredibly sensitive to detergents in toothpastes such as sodium laurel sulfate, or sodium lauryth sulfate. With over 250  different toothpastes containing these detergents it’s easy to use ones that gives you mouth ulcers and you may be clueless as to the cause.

So It’s Time To Look At The Label

Want to avoid mouth ulcers? Avoid SLS or sodium laurel sulfate. Want to avoid more toxic chemicals? Stay away from fluoride. Look for organic toothpastes or SLS free toothpastes.

If you really want to do some interesting research take a look at Environmental Working Group’s  list of products and their ingredients rated for health. Check out

Do You Want A Whitening Toothpaste?

Count the costs. If you use  a “natural toothpaste” with diatomaceous earth, for whitening you are using a natural silica-based abrasive on your teeth. Yes it’s natural, coming from the ocean but it’s not good for your teeth because it’s so abrasive.

A slight increase in the abrasive ingredients in a “whitening” toothpaste may be offset by an increase in tooth sensitivity at the gum-line.

Sensitivity Reducing Toothpastes.

If you already have sensitivity, a very abrasive ingredient may be completely wrong for your teeth. This is where a holistic or biological dentist may be able to guide you in your toothpaste selection.

There are desensitizing tooth pastes that have some additives that may pose only a slight chemical risk, but may be worth considering if sensitivity is extreme.

Specialty toothpastes for application to gum-line areas for sensitivity can be found that do not contain fluoride. MI Paste-without fluoride-is one worth considering.

Back To The Basics

Baking soda and salt was suggested as a combination for tooth brushing by Dr. Paul Keyes DDS, years ago that has been used with some success. Adding a little hydrogen peroxide to dry baking soda so it can stick to your toothbrush is also useful in cleaning your teeth and helping fight gingivitis and gum disease. Bacteria do not like salt and soda so these can be very effective additives to toothpastes.

Is the American Dental Association-ADA Seal of Approval the most important criteria for toothpaste selection? I don’t think so. Are ADA approved toothpastes containing triclosan an endocrine hormone disrupting bacteria killer, the best choice for you? I don’t think so.

Just because a toothpaste receives an organization’s approval doesn’t necessarily  mean it is the right toothpaste for you.  Ask your holistic or biological dentist which one may be the best for you and your family.

Remember, you need to be an informed advocate for your own health. It is even more important today as choices within healthcare become increasingly more limited.