Old West: Toothbrushes and Toothpaste

Old West: Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
A photo from 1899 showing the use of a toothbrush. Created: 31 March 1899 [Image: Public Domain]

A photo from 1899 showing the use of a toothbrush. Created: 31 March 1899 [Image: Public Domain]

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TOOTH POWDERS & TOOTHPASTE

The recipe for toothpaste was found on an ancient Egyptian papyrus. This toothpaste was a mixture of rock salt, dried iris flower and pepper ground up and combined together.

Dr. Sheffield's Crème Angelique Dentifrice, Sheffield Pharmaceuticals - Sheffield Pharmaceuticals' Private Archives, Public Domain

Dr. Sheffield’s Antiseptic Tooth Powder, Sheffield Pharmaceuticals – Sheffield Pharmaceuticals’ Private Archives, [Image: Public Domain]

In 1855, a recipe for toothpaste was printed in the Farmer’s Almanac. The recipe called for myrrh, honey, and green sage. This was to be used on wet teeth each night. An alternate recipe called for cream of tartar mixed with clover oil and cuttlefish bone.

Tooth powders for use with toothbrushes came into general use in the 19th century in Britain. Most were homemade, with chalk, pulverized brick, or salt as ingredients. An 1866 Home Encyclopedia recommended pulverized charcoal, and cautioned that many patented tooth powders that were commercially marketed did more harm than good.

In 1873, Colgate debuted a nice-smelling toothpaste and sold it in a glass jar.

Dr. Sheffield's Crème Angelique Dentifrice, Sheffield Pharmaceuticals - Sheffield Pharmaceuticals' Private Archives, Public Domain

Dr. Sheffield’s Crème Angelique Dentifrice, Sheffield Pharmaceuticals – Sheffield Pharmaceuticals’ Private Archives, [Image: Public Domain]

Dr. Sheffield made his own dental cream in his office, added mint extracts to it so as to improve the flavor, and used it on his patients who expressed their liking for it. The first advertisement published for Dr. Sheffield’s Crème Angelique Dentifrice (the first commercial toothpaste) toothpaste appeared in the New London Telegram on March 12, 1881. In 1896, Colgate & Company Dental Cream was packaged in collapsible tubes imitating Sheffield. The original collapsible toothpaste tubes were made of lead.

Those living in the comparatively rural American West often concocted homemade recipes for tooth powder or used simple staples such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a mild abrasive. It has a mild whitening action and helps to keep an alkaline environment (not friendly for dental plaque bacteria) in the mouth.

TOOTHBRUSHES

Toothbrushes were made from natural bristles (from the neck of a hog) until the 20th century. Handles were made from cattle bone, silver (like Napoleon Bonaparte’s), or carved from wood (including bamboo). In 1844, the first 3-row bristle brush was designed.

The first American to patent a toothbrush was H. N. Wadsworth, (patent number 18,653,) on Nov. 7, 1857. Mass production of toothbrushes began in America around 1885–95 years after mass production of toothbrushes in England.

DID WESTERN HISTORICAL ROMANCE CHARACTERS BRUSH THEIR TEETH?

Given oral hygiene implements were most certainly available, at least at the General Store, I would hope so. We read of heroes finding the heroine’s nearness pleasant and agreeable and the fresh taste of the hero’s kiss… so it stands to reason fictional characters, at least, employed excellent oral hygiene.

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Copyright © 2015 Kristin Holt, LC

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4 Comments

  1. Brick Powder!!! Green Sage!!!! Ewww.
    I know the Ewww is beneath me but…EWWWW.

    Reply
    • I agree! Double-Ewwww! I’m glad for effective, pleasant, affordable oral hygiene products.

      Reply
  2. I’m pretty sure only the more sophisticated people use the tooth products. The cowhands and such were too busy to bother with cleaning their teeth. Especially when they were chewing on tobacco. Great post! I’ve mentioned my heroines using tooth powder a couple of times in my books.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Paty. I do believe you’re very right about some people having poor brushing habits (if at all). From some reading I did, frequent brushing, for many, was not a consistent habit until post WWII. Amazing, eh? We’ve all read about villains with disgusting breath, obvious tooth decay, and stains from chewing tobacco. Thank you for your comment and contributing! ~Kristin

      Reply

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