Saturday, September 23, 2000

A toothpaste sandwich?
By Roshni Johar

IMAGINE you are an American living in New York.... You have gone out, leaving your kids home, glued to the idiot box.

They are hungry and want to make sandwiches for themselves. They do not go to the kitchen for chicken, cheese or tomato sandwiches. Instead they head for the toilet! They take out their favourite brand of strawberry-flavoured toothpaste and squeeze it out on the slices of bread. And then they just smack their lips and lick their fingers upon devouring those ‘delicious’ toothpaste sandwiches! In the USA, there are many toothpaste flavours — chocolate, banana, orange, pineapple, lemon, mint — to choose from.

What’s more, alcohol lovers can brush their teeth with toothpaste of flavours like dry martini, whisky and wine. A Hollywood star had once jokingly commented that toothpaste should also contain tiny mince meat balls as a topping for crackers to be served as hors-d’oeuvres.


Though very tempting, doctors have warned that such toothpaste sandwiches could cause severe stomach ailments.

What is packed in the tubes of our toothpaste that promises to give a sparkle to our 32 pearls? Dentifrice usually contain an abrasive (like finely ground pumice powder or any calcium phosphate/carbonate); foaming, polishing and thickening agents, flavouring, a sweetening agent other than sugar, a little fluoride, certain amount of glycerine to prevent the tube from drying up and good old water.

In the USA, fluoride which reduces tooth decay, is added to drinking water at source, on the recommendation of American Dental Association.

Toothpaste experts, however, claim that such toothpaste scratch our teeth. Swedish scientists in Gothenberg have made a toothpaste which contains soft microscopic pellets of acrylic plastic to prevent scratching of teeth.

Dentists caution overzealous people, particularly those with receding gums, against the use of any highly abrasive powder which can damage the teeth. They suggest that one could use a little sodium chloride i.e. table salt to keep one’s teeth pearly white.

Toothpaste is only a recent invention. It was introduced a century ago. The earliest form of tooth cleaner was the toothpick. A toothpick made of gold was found in a Pharoah’s tomb dating back to 3,500 B.C. Our Indian royalty had ivory toothpicks — plain or engraved, with silver embedded in them.

In olden times, people used slate, sand and even soot to clean their teeth. Chewing of hazel nuts, crisp and crunchy apples and pears, barks and vegetable skins, especially after meals, was recommended.

Julius Caesar and his Roman contemporaries used an odd concoction consisting of burnt egg shells, pumice, incense and ash of oxen-hooves! No history book tells us of what Cleopatra or Mark Anthony used!

Powdered tobacco known as gool has been used in India to clean teeth. It is claimed that it also strengthens the gums and even helps a smoker kick the habit.

John Marshall, an English traveller, testified that chewing paan i.e. betel leaves, cleaned the teeth and was good for gums and dental problems.

In India, even today the neem twig and the bark of the walnut are used for cleaning teeth — the hardiest and toughest parts in our bodies meant to last a lifetime.