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Toothpaste, known as a "dentrifice" by dentists, is one of the most common hygeine products used by people throughout the world. Toothpaste dates way before the invention of toothbrush, although toothpastes during the ancient Roman and Greek times were made from ingredients very different from the ones we have today.

The earliest known toothpaste is a formulation in a manuscript written in 4th century AD Egypt. The manuscript says the toothpaste incredients were a mixture of powdered salt, pepper, mint leaves, and iris flowers. The Romans used toothpaste formulations based on human urine! Urine is antiseptic so in fact its use does make some medicinal sense.

However, todays modern toothpasts are almost always made from a basic mix of an abrasive and fluoride. The abrasive can be mica or sometimes calcium. Many toothpastes also contain an antimicrobial agent. This can be something like sodium lauryl sulfate (actually a detergent, but also anti-microbial in its effect), or triclosan ( very popular in Europe). Toothpasts may variably include other materials, but the above are the common ingredients to be found in most.

While brushing on a regular basis is advised, it is not complete if brushing is not done with toothpaste. Today, there are a whole lot of brands and types of toothpastes in the market – those with high fluoride content, those for sensitive teeth, those with whiteners, and those with flavors and colors. Whatever additive the toothpaste claims to have, the fluoride content is the most important ingredient that it should contain.

Studies from the 1940s and early 1950s suggested that people who drank water that naturally contained fluoride had reduced levels of tooth decay. In the 1950s the Procter & Gamble Company in the USA first had the idea of adding fluoride to their toothpaste brand. In 1956 the company launched a major advertising campaign for their flouridated toothpaste that was hugely sucessful. People began using toothpaste with fluoride as a routine health and hygiene procedure for their teeth.

Fluoride reduces and prevents tooth decay. It covers the smooth enamel areas of the teeth preventing food particles and bacteria to stick on it and do their damage. It also strengthens tooth enamel thereby increasing its resistance to dental caries (tooth decay).

Acceptable levels of fluoride for children’s toothpastes are between 1000-1450ppm (parts per million). Higher fluoride levels are detrimental because it causes mottling of teeth. Tooth mottling is a situation where the color, and/or texture of a tooth can vary in different regions of the tooth. In other words, the teeth can have brown stain spots on them, a condition that is known by dentists as "fluorosis". This can look unsightly, but it is not a health problem as such.

Toothpastes for children come in different flavors and colors that are attractive to children. As such, for children below 7 years of age, adult supervision is needed in putting only a “pea-sized” quantity of toothpaste on the child’s toothbrush.

For adults, it is advised that toothpastes marketed and available over the counter should contain at most 1500ppm. Higher fluoride levels of up to 2800 ppm is available upon a dentist’s advice and can only be purchased with prescription.

Aside from fluoride, toothpastes nowadays have also been supplemented with antibacterial additives like triclosan and zinc citrate. These help reduce bacteria in them outh and help promote heathly gums. Also peroxide-based whitening agents have been added for a brighter and whiter smile to some toothpaste formulations.

The importance of proper and complete tooth brushing and its role in good oral hygiene cannot be emphasized enough. Oral diseases can be reduced and prevented by simply brushing with toothpaste at least twice a day.

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