Source: The Times, 22 February 1809
Nowadays we know that to discover the secret of teeth-whitening, you have to be a single mum, but at the turn of the 19th century it was an ordinary chemist, Edmund Lardner, who introduced this new dentifrice to the public.
Charcoal had long been known as a tooth-whitener, but more so in the East than in this country, and Lardner’s attempts to encourage British people to use it met with approval from physicians.
In 1805 his company published a 3-page pamphlet extolling charcoal’s virtues.
It possesses the desirable qualities of rendering the teeth beautifully white; destroying the fætor arising from carious teeth, which contaminates the breath; removing the scurvy from the gums, and stopping the progress of the decay of the teeth, while, at the same time, it is incapable of either chemically or mechanically injuring the enamel.A year later, one of Lardner’s shopmen, Alexander Blake, left the company and began selling his own version of the tooth powder, still using Lardner’s name. Lardner claimed to have improved the original product and also upped his competitive game by introducing a new Concentrated Solution of Charcoal.
His enthusiastic promotion of charcoal for the teeth was perfectly acceptable. The only odd thing was that his products didn’t actually contain much of it. The Prepared Charcoal was mainly powdered chalk, with a small amount of genuine charcoal or ivory black (a pigment made from charred animal bones) to darken it. The Concentrated Solution was a spirituous infusion of roses and myrrh, and was later renamed the Mouth Solution. The Medical Observer, while broadly sympathetic to Lardner as a reputable druggist, commented
In what respect roses and myrrh resemble charcoal, we know not,while The London Medical and Surgical Spectator saw nothing wrong with the solution itself but objected to the false name.
The products remained popular and were used by Lord Byron, who asked his friend Douglas Kinnaird to send him a supply while he was in Venice in 1818. Activated charcoal is still known today as a tooth whitener and odour neutraliser, and Korean and Japanese companies have recently introduced it in a fascinatingly unappealing toothpaste form.