A bit of a curiosity on world oral health day – two historic recipes and one of my own modern interpretations – you don’t have to try but you might enjoy discovering the antecedents of modern toothpastes. Something to smile about.
The most ancient Methods of tooth whitening. Fire many have revolutionized primitive man, but some of its by-product may have civilized our look. In our far history it is believed that ancient man first utilized ground chalk, crushed rock minerals, white clay, ashes and even charcoal as a mouth and tooth cleanser. Seems counter intuitive but there just many have some justified method to this apparent madness as recent otc charcoal toothpastes and dental treatments testify.
Modern research could argue that activated charcoal placed in the mouth alters the pH balance and thus the health of the mouth. Certainly such changes are effective in eliminating the bad bacteria present in tooth decay and gingivitis and also in slowing cavity formation. Activated charcoal can draw toxins from the gums too.
Method: With a mortar and pestle grind to a fine powder some charcoal. Dip a clean toothbrush into the powdered charcoal, moisten your teeth with saliva and simply brush – gentle circular motions. Your mouth and teeth will go black at first but upon rinsing the whitening effect is noticeable – Your whole mouth and teeth will feel remarkably cleansed but there might be some residual taste – give it 10minutes then brush with your regular toothpaste or rinse with a proprietary or homemade mouth wash.
Top tip – Chose natural charcoal (from wood or coconut sources) – which can be sourced in health stores – and not petroleum based often in artists charcoal and bbq charcoal. Like any whitening treatment this is not for daily maintenance – over use can undermine enamel. No more than twice a week for a short booster treatment in advance of a wedding or other social function.
The oldest-known formula – “powder for white and perfect teeth” Retrieved from an Egyptian papyrus dated to the fourth century AD, now housed at the National Library in Vienna, Austria.
One drachma* of dried iris flower
Two drachmas of mint
One drachma of rock salt
20 grains of pepper
Method. Gather all of the ingredients together, crush all and mixed together. The pungent paste can be mixed with the mouths natural saliva to clean and strengthen teeth. Rub with cloth, (finger or soft bristle tooth brush) and rinse after.
Efficacy – salt is abrasive, sterilizing and drawing out of toxins. Black pepper is analgesic (subduing cavity pain), increases saliva, is antibacterial and traditionally utilized to strengthen gums and remedy loose teeth. Mint is a feature of all modern toothpastes for its freshness and disinfectant properties. Iris flowers and essence increase salvia production and contain active ingredients effective against gum disease and tooth decay – so much so that it is beginning to make an appearance in commercial dental products.
*a drachma is a Greek measurement – from drakhmē meaning ‘a handful’. There is nothing dangerous (toxic, photosensitive, or highly active) in this formula so empiricism can take a back seat to a handful of herbs and a pinch of pepper. From herbals of the 1500s on, a drachma as a medicine makers or “apothecaries’ unit” was a definable weight equal to 1/8 of an ounce or to 60 grains – perhaps reclaiming the original Egyptian value. So the choice is yours, I have tried this one at different proportions, and it really only lessens or strengths the pepper ration/ratio.
something a little more modern Treatment Grinning face toothpaste Coconut owes its naming to Spanish and Portuguese sailors of the C16th who employed the word coco – a then contemporary slang for “a grinning face” – to reference the features of the hairy nut with facial indentations – little did they know it could be employed to increase the wideness of a grin and turn it into a white smile.
• 8 tbsp. coconut oil
• 4 tbsp. baking soda
• 2 tbsp ground sea salt
• 1 tbsp tablespoon ground cinnamon or ground clove
Optional – 1 teaspoon stevia or xylitol (to sweeten) or 2 tbsp or more of vegetable glycerin (for toothpaste consistency and sweeter)
Method – You could mix in a cup, I like to mix all ingredients via a mortar and pestle to get a great paste. Then simply jar up. Keeps on a shelf for several months.
Efficacy – salt is abrasive and plaque lifting on teeth while calming on gums, backing soda similar and also stain removing and pH balancing. Cinnamon and clove are antibacterial and promote gum health. Coconut oil is antibacterial and draws toxins from gums and mouth. Stevia is plant based and one of the least tooth impactful sweeteners. Xylitol (similarly a commercially available sweetener) is protective of tooth enamel and clinical studies have shown potential to arrest carious lesions and prevent tooth decay – hence its appearance lately in mouthwashes and dental chewing gum.