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Tree Bark, Eggshells, and Nurdles: The History of Toothpaste

May 10, 2022

Have you ever looked at the glob of toothpaste on the end of your toothbrush and wondered what it’s called? No? Just us? Well, it turns out a wave-shaped blob of toothpaste sitting on a toothbrush is called a “nurdle.” Seriously.

This word was reportedly coined by the American Dental Association in the 1990’s to educate the public about proper brushing technique. But even though this may be the first time you’ve heard of a nurdle, toothpaste itself has a history that stretches back to the ancient Egyptians!

Back then, before toothbrushes had even been invented, they used a paste to clean their teeth, but you probably wouldn’t recognize it as toothpaste today. They used materials like crushed bones, burnt eggshells, charcoal, tree bark, and pumice. These abrasive, not-so-hygienic materials were thought to freshen breath, whiten teeth, and clean the teeth and gums.

If using that paste doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant experience, we don’t blame you! It wasn’t until the 1800’s that people started developing the kind of toothpaste we’re used to. Before 1850, toothpaste was in powder form and sometimes contained soap or chalk until the gel-like consistency was developed.

In 1880, Dr. Washington Sheffield made the first collapsible tube of toothpaste after getting the idea from painters using tubes of paint. We have thankfully improved on his design since then, as the first toothpaste tubes were made of lead!

The later twentieth century brought many advancements to dentistry and research, and toothpaste that prevented or treated specific diseases was developed. Fluoride toothpaste was first manufactured in 1914 to help prevent corrosion, and dentists realized abrasive ingredients like those crushed bones could wear away enamel.


Toothpaste today typically contains fluoride, coloring, flavoring, sweetener, and ingredients that make the toothpaste smooth, foam and stay moist. It’s hard to believe we started with ingredients like bark and bone, but even the ancient Egyptians were onto something when they included charcoal, as many toothpastes today contain it to whiten teeth.

With all this talk of toothpaste, you may be asking, “which is the best kind for my teeth?” There are a lot of choices out there that claim to do a lot of different things, but our dentists recommend fluoride toothpastes that have the ADA seal of approval on the tube. If that still doesn’t narrow it down enough for you, come see us, and we can talk you through the best options.

We’ll sum it all up by saying a whole lot of history and science went in to every nurdle you see today, so you can brush with confidence that your teeth are being treated right!