The earliest known reference to a toothpaste is in a manuscript from Egypt in the 4th century A.D., which prescribes a mixture of powdered salt, pepper, mint leaves, and iris flowers. The Romans used toothpaste formulations based on human urine. An 18th century American toothpaste recipe containing burnt bread has been found. Another formula around this time called for dragon's blood (a resin), cinnamon, and burnt alum.
However, toothpastes or powders did not come into general use until the 19th century in Britain. In the early 1800s, the toothbrush was usually used only with water, but tooth powders soon gained popularity. Most were home made, with chalk, pulverized brick, and salt being common ingredients. An 1866 Home Encyclopedia recommended pulverized charcoal, and cautioned that many patented tooth powders then commercially marketed did more harm than good.
Before the Second World War, tooth paste was sold in lead containers. Although the insides were waxed, lead still mixed with the paste. This led to illnesses and death. Due to the above and the shortage of lead in World War 2, tooth paste began being sold in plastic containers. The bad thing was, since everybody dipped their toothbrush in, it could spread sickness.
By 1900, a paste made of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda was recommended. Pre-mixed toothpastes were first marketed in the 19th century, but did not surpass the popularity of tooth-powder until World War I. In New York City in 1896, Colgate & Company manufactured toothpaste in the first collapsible tube, similar to that recently introduced for artists' paints.
Fluoride was first added to toothpastes in 1914, and was criticized by the American Dental Association (ADA) in 1937. Fluoride toothpastes developed in the 1950s received the ADA's approval. Countries limit and suggest different amounts acceptable for health. Much of Africa has a slightly higher percent than the U.S.
Toothpaste is most commonly sold in flexible tubes, though harder containers are available. The hard containers stand straight up, availing more of the toothpaste and saving shelf space.