Before toothpaste, people used tooth powder. James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian, kept a recipe for tooth powder, and the 1855 Farmer's Almanac printed a tooth powder recipe. For those who didn't want to make their own, numerous varieties of tooth powders were sold in small tins. Today, though toothpaste dominates the market, a few people still prefer to use tooth powder to clean their teeth. Its ingredients are composed of cleaners, breath fresheners, and flavorings.
Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is the chief ingredient in commercial tooth powder as well as in homemade tooth powders. The slight abrasive action of baking soda helps clean and shine teeth and freshens breath.
Trisodium phosphate, also known as TSP, is a cleaner used for everything from scrubbing floors to cleaning teeth. The small amounts used in tooth powders serve as cleaners. Trisodium phosphate at these strengths is non-toxic. TSP is an ingredient in many toothpastes as well as tooth powder.
Sodium saccharine makes the tooth powder taste sweet, but it doesn't contribute to tooth decay the way sugar does.
Tooth powders may contain flavorings such as peppermint, spearmint of cinnamon. These flavorings not only make the tooth powder itself taste better, but also leave the breath sweet smelling and the mouth fresh.