Is the sweet taste of toothpaste enough to convince you to brush with it, or does the toothpaste boast of health benefits? Once upon a time, the answer wasn’t so obvious.

Since Toothpaste suppliers are so important to our dental health, toothpaste is one of the most basic household essentials. The situation wasn’t always like that, as business historian Peter Miskell writes. In fact, brands have been promoting the benefits of toothpaste long before they were even invented.

The rate of dental disease dramatically increased during the second half of the nineteenth century, according to Miskell. Cheaper, sugar-filled packaged foods contributed to the increase of dental disease. As white flour became more popular, people ate softer food, which stimulates less salivation, which helps prevent plaque buildup.

 

The most significant health benefit toothpaste makers could provide was that the taste of their products encouraged brushing by making it more pleasant.

The dental profession was aware of these issues by the turn of the twentieth century. To remove food particles and stimulate salivation, dentists recommend brushing teeth. As long as there were no proven chemical treatments, whatever was on the brush was irrelevant. The most effective way toothpaste manufacturers could offer health benefits was to make brushing more enjoyable by making their products taste better.

Even so, the leading brand at the time, Colgate Dental Cream, marketed the product by emphasizing the health benefits of brushing. Colgate sent two million free trial tubes of its product to schools, gave out brushes, and hired hygienists to demonstrate brushing.

A popular product to advertise in the 1920s was toothpaste, especially with the advent of commercial radio. The claims of health benefits were rarely made by advertisers. By emphasizing the social advantages of whiter teeth and stronger breath, they were able to differentiate their brands, writes Miskell.

The marketing surge was successful. According to a 1938 survey of households in U.S. cities, 65 percent of households had toothpaste.

Real health benefits, however, remain a holy grail for toothpaste brands. Procter & Gamble spent more than $3 million to develop a fluoride-containing toothpaste with real therapeutic benefits during the 1950s.

Crest was the result of P&G’s efforts in 1956. Advertisements with the slogan “Look, mom, no cavities” were designed by Norman Rockwell. But Crest was not a big hit straight away. P&G’s Gleem brand, which sold itself as a cosmetic rather than a therapeutic product, barely dragged down Colgate’s market share.

In 1960, Crest made its real breakthrough when the American Dental Association endorsed it. It dominated the market within two years. Fluoride was added to other brands’ products when they caught up. It wasn’t until 1969 that Colgate became an ADA-endorsed company.

Crest and Colgate quickly established themselves as the leading brands. There are different flavors and promises of whiter teeth and fresher breath on the market today. Nonetheless, the underlying claim of cavity prevention-as well as the widespread use of fluoride-remains the same.