What Did People Use Before Toothpaste? Surprising Answers!

People have been cleaning their teeth since ancient times, but toothpaste as we know it didn’t exist then. So, what did people use to clean their teeth before the invention of modern toothpaste? The answer might surprise you!

Early Toof Brush

During the ancient times, people used to clean their teeth with a ‘chew stick’, also known as a “tooth stick.” This toothbrush-like tool was made of twigs from specific trees and was chewed and rubbed against the teeth to clean them. These tooth sticks were created by chewing on one end until it frayed, then brushing the frayed end against the teeth. Evidence of chew sticks has been found throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and they are still used in some parts of the world today.

Different Kinds of Tree Twigs used as chew sticks

  • Neem twigs
  • Miswak twigs
  • Birch twigs
  • Cinnamon twigs
  • Tea tree twigs

Each of these twigs had different benefits and were used by different cultures around the world. Miswak twig is the most popular choice from ancient times and its still used in many parts of the world.

Chew stick

Natural Toothpaste Alternatives

Did you know that long before toothpaste was invented, people used different types of natural substances to clean their teeth? While some of these substances might seem strange to us today, they were used for centuries and have been proven to work.

Baking soda and Salt

Baking soda and salt were two common natural toothpaste alternatives in the past. Baking soda has a natural cleaning power and salt could effectively polish teeth. A mixture of baking soda and salt was used to clean teeth for some people.

Eggshells and Oyster shells

Eggshells and Oyster shells were crushed into a fine powder and then blended with vinegar to create a paste. This mixture was used to polish teeth due to its abrasive nature.

Herbal Toothpaste Varieties

In some cultures, herbal toothpaste was used as a primary tooth-cleaning method. Different plants were used and used for cleaning teeth due to their anti -bacterial properties.

The advent of Modern Toothpaste

Over time, toothpaste has evolved in many ways. From powders to pastes to gels, the texture and consistency of toothpaste have changed based on new ingredients and understood requirements.

The Growth of Fluoride

By the 1950s, fluoride was added to toothpaste as a way to help prevent tooth decay. Meanwhile, other toothpaste components like detergents, artificial sweeteners and preservatives became the norms for toothpaste manufacturing.

Advanced to suit different needs

Nowadays, toothpaste manufacturers provide a wide range of benefits that can be targeted towards specific needs. These benefits extend beyond not only cleaning teeth but providing additional oral health benefits such as whitening, sensitivity relief, gum care and dried mouth.

The Future of Toothpaste

What does the future hold for toothpaste? It’s hard to predict exactly, but one thing we know for sure is that toothpaste will continue to evolve and improve. Some ideas of the future could include:

Mouth bacteria Targeted Toothpaste

In much the same way that antibiotics target specific types of bacteria, toothpaste of the future may target specific types of bacteria in the mouth, potentially reducing the need for dental cleanings.

3D Printed Toothpaste

3D printing in the oral sector has been shown great potential for future Dental use. It is predicted that 3D printed toothpaste will be a personalised and precise toothpaste, with different compounds for different teeth portions of the mouth.


For a long time, people have been cleaning their teeth with various DIY toothpaste alternatives available, such as salt, baking powder, and vinegar, among others, as well as using natural teeth cleaning methods such as twigs and other natural substances for brushing. But modern toothpaste has become more advanced over the years with targeted formulations having multiple benefits. While we can’t predict the future, it’s exciting to think about the potential innovations that lie ahead of us for dental care.

FAQs About Toothpaste Alternatives

  • What did ancient Romans use to clean their teeth?

    Ancient Romans often used a concoction of ash, animal bones, and oyster shells to clean their teeth.
  • What are the alternatives to toothpaste?

    Some of the alternatives to toothpaste are baking soda, salt, chew sticks, and herbal toothpaste.
  • Is it safe to use natural toothpaste alternatives?

    Some natural toothpaste alternatives may not be as effective as modern toothpaste, but they are generally safe to use.
  • Who invented modern toothpaste?

    Although many people have contributed to the development of toothpaste over thousands of years, the modern toothpaste we use today was invented by Dr. Washington Sheffield in 1850.
  • What toothpaste is best?

    There is no “one size fits all” toothpaste. The best toothpaste for you depends on your individual needs, such as sensitivity, whiteness requirements or any dental issues you are facing. Consulting your dentist for the best-suited toothpaste is a wise choice.


  1. Patir, R. (2018). Toothpaste history: how it all started. The Times of India, October 3, 2018.
  2. Martel, S. (2016). Natural dental care: What we used before toothpaste. Delta Dental, August 31, 2016.
  3. Bailey, R. (2017). What did people use before toothpaste? The Conversation, February 13, 2017.
  4. Jensen, M. (2019). The history of toothpaste: two millennia of shiny teeth. Dental Tribune International, July 22, 2019.

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