One morning, not too long ago, I was brushing my teeth. As the minty, foamy flavor filled my mouth, I mindlessly scanned the bathroom counter. There was the tube of toothpaste, the ice blue bottle of mouthwash and the little white container of floss. The unifying factor: They were all minty. Why not cinnamon? Or citrus? Or heck, why not chocolate? Is there some fundamental reason why clean = mint?
Sorta, it turns out. See, the dental-mint connection dates way back to the early 1900s, when a prominent ad exec named Claude C. Hopkins and an up-and-coming toothpaste company called Pepsodent joined forces. Their singular goal? To make toothpaste mainstream. That’s right—apparently just a little more than a century ago, brushing your teeth wasn’t yet a habit for the American people. Subsequently, tooth decay was at an all-time high (and make-out sessions at an all-time low, one can only imagine).
It’s hard to conceive why people wouldn’t brush their teeth more regularly—what with the bad breath and tooth decay and all—but after I did some digging into the history of oral care before the 20th century, their reluctance made a lot more sense.
Per the American Dental Association, “in ancient times a frayed end of a stick was generally employed to clean the teeth" (and subsequently shred your gums). As for toothpaste? Ha. Before our pals at Pepsodent made it a medicine-cabinet mainstay, “a dentist would provide patients with their own dentifrice mixtures in bottles and pots” that were “either a liquid or a more pasty concoction.” (If you can believe it, this was a step up from the earliest forms of toothpaste that date back to 5,000 B.C., which were concocted with naturally abrasive ingredients such as ox hooves, crushed bones and bark. Yum.)