The Best Old Dental Products You’ve Never Heard Of

Have you brushed your teeth with Sozodont lately? Do you think the local drugstore still carries Rubifoam? Can you find a listing for Dr. Sheffield’s Antiseptic Creme Dentifrice in the pages of Benco Dental’s Dentist’s Desk Reference?

The aforementioned dental products were popular around the turn of the 20th century, but today are almost unheard of. What were these products and what happened to them? Read on to find out:



SozodontAd2This early tooth cleaner was sold in liquid form. The name references the Greek sozo, meaning “to save”, and dontia, meaning “teeth“. Created in 1859, it was  heavily marketed throughout the latter half of the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century. So well marketed was Sozodont that by the turn of the century, it was a household name, despite its dubious health claims. The company claimed that Sozodont would clean and preserve the teeth and harden the gums, as well as “impart a delightfully refreshing taste and feeling to the mouth.” In addition promotional material stated: “it prevents the accumulation of tartar on the teeth and arrests the progress of decay.” None of these claims could be proven. As early as 1866, “The Dental Cosmos” was skeptical of Sozodont and other products like it. Sozodont grew in popularity until the early 20th century, when it fell out of favor due to issues regarding its side effects.




AHB2014q040026Another early liquid tooth preparation was created and sold by E.W. Hoyt & Co. in 1887. Called Rubifoam due to the red color of the product, it similar in ingredients to many other “tooth washes” on the market at that time. The E.W. Hoyt & Co. was also well-known for producing Hoyt’s German Cologne. The company advocated using Rubifoam to prevent tooth decay, even though, at the time, the cause of tooth decay was still being debated.

Why were several of these products colored red? Our ancestors liked their tooth cleaners to match the healthy color of gums, rather today’s toothpastes which mirror the whiteness of teeth.

HoytsCologneRubifoamCardThe Hoyt company’s big seller was the cologne, but the company wisely tied the Rubifoam advertising to the cologne, often creating colorful, collectible cards with both products on them. As a result, the “deliciously flavored” (as one advertisement put it) product sold well. Since the ingredients were not super-effective in removing decay, it’s popularity died out as it was replaced with more potent products.



Dr. Sheffield’s Antiseptic
Creme Dentifrice

Pearson's MagazineThis was an early toothpaste, but with several innovations that set it apart from other early preparations. It was created in the mid 1870s by Dr. Washington Sheffield, a talented dentist located in Connecticut. In addition to having made important contributions to the fields of Dentistry and Dental Surgery, Dr. Sheffield is credited with being the first person to put toothpaste in a collapsible tube. He gave it to his patients and the demand was so strong he started a company, Sheffield Dentifrice Co., which is still in business today as the Sheffield Pharmaceutical Co.


This product can still be bought at your local drugstore!



CVS still carries several varieties of Dr. Sheffield’s toothpaste, including Dr. Sheffield’s Premium Natural Sensitive Care Toothpaste, so it seems that the good doctor was on to something.

In an era before the Pure Food and Drug Act, there were many commercial preparations that promised to keep teeth perfectly clean and sound that may have been without merit. What many of them did have, was pervasive and beautiful advertising and packaging that is still collected today.

I’m certainly glad that modern toothpastes have a better track record for keeping cavities at bay than the preparations our ancestors used!


About the blogger

Guest blogger Jenn Ochman, Database Publishing Production Specialist in the Branding and Communication Department at Benco Dental, dedicates her time outside work to historical reenactment. She shares knowledge of dental history with readers on a monthly basis.

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Are bad teeth to blame for people not smiling in historical photographs? #tbt

Did you ever look at stacks of old photos at an antique store and wonder why people hardly ever smiled? Could it be because they were ashamed of missing and decayed teeth? Possibly.

The state of dentistry during much of the 19th century was quite awful, and the answer to pain in a tooth usually was to just pull it, rather than try to save it. Plenty of people went around with missing teeth and compromised smiles because of it. Still, after some research, while poor dental health would make a sitter’s smile unattractive, that seems not to have been the driving force behind lack of grins.

A more plausible reason: Early photography was seen as a successor to professionally-painted portraits. People wanted to appear dignified and serious in their portrait and that carried over to photography. Most people thought smiling made them look ridiculous.

According to Nicholas Jeeves, who wrote an extensive article on the topic, by the 17th century “it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment.”

shutterstock_415791661 (1)
Mark Twain, straight-faced .

Even Mark Twain, who liked to laugh and make others laugh, felt smiling in a photograph was undignified. In a letter to the Sacramento Daily Union, Twain wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.” Photography was a serious business, costly to have done and cameras were difficult to operate.


What made us change our minds?
A name well-known in photography and dentistry, Kodak, had the world smiling and saying “cheese” in photos by the 1950s. The company’s clever combination included cameras so easy to operate (and affordable) a child could use them, and distinctive marketing. Kodak developed the famous $1 Brownie camera (shown) in 1900. It’s tagline: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

L0031706 Ephemera Collection: QV: Advertising: 1850-1

During much of the 19th century, advertising tended toward a “warning” —  if a consumer did not buy a particular product, bad things would happen. By the time Kodak introduced its new camera, advertisers touted product satisfaction instead of the avoidance of a negative experience. Kodak sold happiness; they focused on the pleasure of consumption. In 1893, the company introduced the Kodak Girl (below) pictured as smiling and happy, taking photos with her Kodak. Since people were having fun in front of and behind the lens, they were encouraged to smile. Smiling in photographs came to be encouraged and eventually, expected.

An early version of the Kodak Girl.

The Kodak Brownie camera made photography cheap and easy, so people started taking photos on picnics, holidays, road trips, all while out having fun. Folks didn’t have to choose a single expression to serve as their memorial for the ages. We can only imagine what they’d think of the hundreds of thousands of pics that are now taken every minute, complete with our foolish smirks, photobombs, and compromising selfies.

Jenn Ochman’s antique likeness (shown, above left), captured by Rob Gibson. Rob creates photos as it was done in the 1860s, in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, using antique equipment and methods. He has produced antique photos for the The History Channel, Ken Burns’ films, and various documentaries.

Guest blogger Jenn Ochman, Database Publishing Production Specialist in the Branding and Communication Department at Benco Dental, dedicates her time outside work to historical reenactment. She shares knowledge of dental history with readers on a monthly basis.