You are brushing your teeth and wondered why toothpaste tastes like this. Why mint? Are there any other flavors?
Mint is used to mask the taste of the other toothpaste ingredients. It became a popular flavoring because of the pioneer Claude C. Hopkins’ successful ad campaigns for Pepsodent mint toothpaste. Later other manufacturers followed suit when they realized mint was the secret of Pepsodent’s success.
Perhaps it might surprise you to know that centuries ago people cared about oral health and that mint has been used for hundreds of years for oral hygiene.
Since ancient Egyptians and Romans, mint was used in oral health as it was believed to promote dental health and to freshen the breath.
Research suggests that the ancient Egyptians were the first to utilize a tooth cleaning powder made from crushed rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and pepper. Mint and other herbs were used to promote dental health and freshen the breath.
The ancient Romans and Greeks, added abrasives to their tooth powders using crushed bone and oyster shells. Ouch. They also added powdered charcoal and bark in an attempt to make the mixture taste pleasant and to combat bad breath.
Around 500 BC the Chinese added ginseng, mint, and salt in their powder/paste again to make the mixture palatable.
In medieval Europe, mint was mixed with vinegar and used as a mouthwash. Other fragrant herbs and spices were also used such as parsley, cardamom, sage, marjoram, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and rosemary.
Because of the sensation that menthol triggers, people have associated mint specifically with oral and skin health. This explains why it is one of the most widespread ingredients in many toiletry hygiene products.
Below is a quick timeline of the major moment of toothpaste history:
Late 1700s: people were still using a tooth cleaner in powder form using ashes (burnt toast).
1800s: soap was added to the ashes to boost cleanliness (abrasive).
1870s: dentist Dr. Washington Sheffield was the first to sell his mint-infused “paste” in his dental practice.
1873: Colgate became the first company to mass-produce toothpaste in tubes.
Minty toothpaste, although had already existed, was not really as popular as it is now.
Early 1900s: Pioneer Claude C. Hopkins came along making the mint toothpaste popular. Hopkins was approached by an old friend who created his own minty toothpaste that didn’t become gluey after sitting for a long time on shelves. This friend asked Hopkins to help with advertising “Pepsodent”.
Hopkins was at first adamant because in that era only 20% of the American population brushed their teeth regularly. After a lot of reading, he came up with the idea that the “film” on our teeth is what is causing dental problems.
Further, his message is that Pepsodent is the product that will solve the issue and will give customers a brighter smile “in just 7 days.” All that even without scientific data to back him up!
Pepsodent became wildly popular not only due to the ad campaigns but also because the sensation from the mint had made people associate it with freshness and oral health. Due to that, many Americans developed the habit of regularly brushing their teeth.
Later, when other toothpaste companies realized this was Pepsodent’s secret to success, they also followed suit.
The cool sensation that mint toothpaste gives you has the same reasons why water feels cold after eating mints.
Depending on the manufacturer, modern toothpaste contains a lot of ingredients and one of those is flavoring. The most commonly used flavor is a mint extract which is only between 0.3 – 2.0% and is obtained from mint leaves (peppermint or spearmint).
Common toothpaste ingredients are:
1) Sweeteners, 2) Colouring, 3) Preservatives, 4) Humectants, 5) Water, 6) Abrasives, 7) Surfactants, 8) Flavoring, and 9) Whitening Agents
1 – Sweeteners
It is used to improve the taste from bitter to a little sweet.
2 – Coloring
It is easy to make striped toothpaste if you have a base color of white.
3 – Preservatives
This prevents bacteria from growing while toothpaste is in storage. Commonly used preservatives are sodium benzoate, ethyl, and methyl paragon.
4 – Humectants
Contains a portion of water. Humectants are used to prevent water from separating from the rest of the ingredients, therefore, preventing the toothpaste from drying out.
5 – Water
This forms the paste together with the other ingredients.
6 – Abrasives
The ingredient that scrapes the gunk from the enamel without scratching it.
7 – Surfactants
It’s what makes toothpaste foamy. A commonly used surfactant is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).
8 – Flavoring
This ingredient is used to mask the taste of all the other ingredients. Mint is the most commonly used flavoring although many companies have explored other flavors like cinnamon, orange, and wintergreen.
Toothpaste is not edible. Its ingredients can cause some stomach discomfort when injested in large quantities. The ingredient of particular concern is fluoride because too much of it causes enamel fluorosis — a condition where the tooth appearance degrades.
With all that said, it is always possible that we swallow bits of toothpaste while brushing. That is harmless however, swallowing an entire tube can cause severe health complications. Complications vary depending on whether it’s an adult, a child, or a young baby.
Edible toothpaste was invented by NASA in 1987 which allowed astronauts to brush their teeth without spitting out the slurry. This use extended to children who are learning how to brush their teeth.
No-mint toothpaste is designed for children because those products do not have or contain very little fluoride to avoid enamel fluorosis and problems due to accidental ingestion of large amounts in young children. It also helps children tolerate toothpaste better.
Fluoride is an additional ingredient that helps strengthen teeth and protects them from dental caries by slowing the production of acid by the bacteria in the mouth. The idea of adding fluoride to toothpaste was introduced in Great Britain in 1914. However, researchers are not sure when fluoride was actually added to toothpaste.
Fluoride toothpaste became popular in the late 1950s after research showed that the chemical is able to reduce dental caries. In the 1960s the American Dental Association approved the use of fluoride toothpaste which paved the way for the product to be marketed globally.
It is all about the consumer acceptability of the product. Options are available for people who simply love the heavy minty flavor, people who cannot tolerate or are allergic to mint, or young children who yet have to be trained to form daily brushing habits.
When considering toothpaste for kids, choose the one that has at least 0.221% sodium fluoride or 0.76% sodium monofluorophosphate. Of course, you’d say, “But tap water is treated with fluoride!” In the case of water, it is always advised not to drink water immediately to allow the fluoride to dissipate first.
Many dentists are divided on this. Some do recommend homemade toothpaste to avoid harsh ingredients like the foaming agents while some don’t because the “natural” ingredients might not be safe for the teeth. However, people who have done it for months, report that using homemade toothpaste feels different without the foaming effect.
I have 3 homemade toothpaste recipes below for all of you who are interested in comparing commercial toothpaste with homemade ones. I haven’t sampled them yet, but friends of mine swear for their effectiveness. Curious? Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Coconut oil contains acid that kills harmful bacteria, improves oral health, and reduces bad breath
Before we get it to it, prepare the following ingredients:
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 2-4 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon xylitol (or stevia)
- 15-20 drops peppermint essential oil, food-grade
- Bentonite Clay (optional)
- Mason jar or easy-squeeze tube
- Funnel (if using tube)
The coconut oil should be in a liquid state if not, you can melt it using the double boiler method (same as melting chocolate), a microwave, or a big essential oil burner like this one on Amazon.
Combine baking soda and coconut oil. Mix well.
Then add xylitol. Mix again.
Lastly, add the peppermint essential oil and mix.
Pour the mixture into a glass jar with a tight lid. Let cool and solidify.
How to use:
You can either dip your toothbrush into the toothpaste or for hygienic purposes, use a little spoon.
Rinse well to get rid of any aftertaste.
You will need the following ingredients:
- 3-4 tbsp organic virgin coconut oil
- 3-4 tbsp baking soda
- 1/2-1 tsp organic cinnamon
These are optional:
- A few drops of your choice of food-grade essential oils (some of them are listed above)
- A few drops of stevia (sweetener)
How to prepare:
In a jar that has a tight lid, mash the baking soda, cinnamon, and coconut oil together until it forms into a paste. If using the optional ingredients, include them in the mixture you are mixing together.
Note: You can always add more cinnamon or essential oil if the taste does not suit you.
For the ingredients:
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tbsp powdered orange peel
- 2 tsp dried sage
- Several drops of peppermint essential oil, food-grade
Combine and grind all the ingredients together. Add a little water to form a paste.
Reminder: Citrus has acids that might lead your teeth to tooth damage or sensitivity.
Some of you might not want to make homemade toothpaste. These are the products that I normally use or recommend
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- Mint has always played an important role not only in culinary arts but also in hygienic products.
- The use of mint and other herbs has been practiced for hundreds of years in relation to teeth cleaning powders/pastes.
- If you are not comfortable using commercial toothpaste, you can actually make some for yourself which is economical.
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“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg in Slate
“The History of Toothpaste: From 5000 BC to the Present” by Thomas P Connelly in HuffPost
“A Short History of Toothpaste” by n.a. in PMA Dental Care
“Making Toothpaste at Home, From Ancient Times to Today” by Becky Little in National Geographic
“A Brief History of Mint, from Air Freshener to Breath Freshener” by n.a. in Eater
“Did You Know That Toothpaste Wasn’t Always Supposed To Be ‘Minty’?” by n.a. in Collegedunia
“The History of Toothpaste” by n.a. in Stetson Hills Dental
“An Introduction to Toothpaste – Its Purpose, History and Ingredients” by Frank Lippert in Researchgate DOI: 10.1159/000350456