How did people maintain dental hygiene prior to toothpaste?

No toothpaste? No toothbrush? No problem. Dental hygiene has been dramatically improved from centuries past. So, the next time you think about complaining about brushing or flossing your teeth, remember that it used to be much worse!

Here are some of the ways people in the olden days kept their teeth clean.

Animal products

Before toothbrushes were invented, people had to find a way to clean their teeth. Unfortunately, that often meant putting unpleasant objects in their mouths. That’s right: bird feathers, animal bones, and porcupine quills were used as toothpicks. Ancient Egyptians used to grind ox hooves into a powder for their toothpaste.

Oyster shells

The Romans and Greeks created a unique powder recipe that combined crushed bones and oyster shells. This was made into a tooth powder that was rubbed on their teeth to keep them clean. As the idea of toothpaste evolved, pharmacists began mixing abrasive things with essential oils like eucalyptus, cinnamon, or peppermint. Other things that were mixed in there could be ammonia or penicillin, which were used to fight germs.


The ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had their ideas of what kind of mouthwash was most effective in disinfecting the mouth. Urine, tortoise blood, mint leaves, berries, and vinegar were all ingredients that were used as mouthwash in ancient times. Its amazing people had any teeth at all!

Chew sticks

Bark or long chew sticks with frayed ends were a common way to improve dental health before toothbrushes were created. William Addis is believed to have produced the first toothbrush available to the masses.

During World War II daily oral hygiene was talked about more. American soldiers were required to brush their teeth as part of their hygiene routines. The first nylon toothbrush was made in the 1930s and the first electric toothbrush in the 1960s. As ways to improve oral health improved, instances of tooth decay decreased. Thankfully today, there are dozens of options for people to keep their mouth clean and healthy.

Whether it’s mouthwash, flossers, a water pick, or an electric toothbrush that gets your brushing done quickly, there are lots of different ways to keep your smile glowing and your teeth pearly white. Along with regularly scheduled visits to the dentist, you’ll be able to avoid crushed ox hooves and bird feathers.

Contact us today to schedule your routine cleaning appointment with our dedicated team of dental professionals at Creekside Dental. We also offer whitening teeth procedures, sealants, root canals, and other dental procedures. We look forward to hearing from you.