Joanna here. I've posted before with all my thoughts and beliefs and outright speculation that Regency folk of the middling and upper sorts were probably as cleanly and nice smelling as most folks nowadays. That is not an impeccable standard, as anyone who takes public transportation will testify. But it's also not the universal reek-to-heaven some folks think it must be.
So let's wander into the question of oral hygiene, shall we?
(And I promise not to go into anything even vaguely touching upon tooth-ache and tooth-drawers and suchlike horrors because some of you are sitting down with a nice croissant and café au lait and you do not deserve to be harrowed to your marrow.)
What did Regency folk use as toothbrushes?
Well ... They used toothbrushes.
Taking into account the sad fact that our Regency folk didn't have plastic and were therefore unable to make their dental implements in screaming magenta and electric green stripes, they still did pretty well. The business end of the toothbrush was of stiff boar bristles or — like this one over on the right — horsehair. The handles were ivory, wood, or bone, carved for a firm yet graceful grip.
Toothbrushes were commercially available in the Regency, one of the early companies being founded by William Addis in 1780. He is said to have worked out the manufacturing technique while in prison for rioting. As one does.
I have to request the favour of you to send me three or four shirts, some cravats, handkerchiefs, night-caps, stockings, &c. out of my drawers, together with comb, soap, toothbrush, with any other trifle that presents itself, which you think I may have occasion for.
Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, Vol 4, R. S. Kirby
The poor were not yet possessors of toothbrushes, but they coped, as they always do.
These ordinary details of life often don't leave much archeological evidence and the folks producing written records at the time weren't interested enough to tell us, but it's likely common folk cleaned their teeth with a bit of cloth and some water and maybe a bit of salt. Or they cut sticks from the branches of a tree or bush or dug up some likely fibrous roots. They'd pound or chew one end of the little stick ragged and brush-like to make quite a fine tooth-cleaning tool. This is still a traditional method worldwide and works just fine.
Given a choice between a fancy boar-bristle toothbrush used for months or years and a nice bit of sassafras twig I'd cut fresh every day or so, I think I'd go for the methods of the poor.
Though the root and twig method was also used by the wealthy. Oh yes. Here to the left is a silver box from Paris used for storing your tooth-clean roots of marshmallow, licorice or lucerne (which in this case is not the city but Cytisus proliferus, a "small, spreading evergreen tree".)
How to Make an Excellent Tooth Brush:
Procure two or three dozen of the fresh roots of marshmallows, and dry them carefully in the shade, so that they may not shrivel. They must be chosen about as thick as a cane, and cut to five or six inches long, then with a mallet bruise the ends of them very gently, for about half an inch down, in order to form a brush. Then take two ounces of dragon's blood, four ounces of highly rectified spirit, and half an ounce of fresh conserve of roses, and put them in a glazed pipkin or pan, to dissolve over a gentle fire. When dissolved, put in your prepared mallow-roots, stirring them to make them take the dye equally. Continue this till no moisture remains in the vessel, when the roots will be hard, dry, and fit for use. If you take care of them, they will last you a considerable time.
The Complete Servant: Being a Practical Guide to the Peculiar Duties and Business of All Descriptions of Servants, Knight and Lacey, 1825
(Dragon's blood, you will be relieved to know, just means 'a red dye'. It could come from any number of sources, though probably not giant saurians.)
Which brings us to toothpaste. Or, as they called in the Regency era, tooth powder, which is was. Powder, I mean. The limitless ingenuity of mankind did not bring forth commercial mushy toothpaste till Victorian times. Our earlier folk had to dip their toothbrush into a jar or box of powder or sprinkle it upon the bristles.
The powder would likely contain some abrasive element like finely ground eggshell, bone, gypsum, oyster shell, chalk, brick dust, ash from burnt bread or burnt snuff. Some Regency tooth powders were called 'coral powders' because they were made with ground coral. The second element would be an astringent and cleansing element like salt, shaved soap, myrrh. Maybe they'd toss in a ground herb like licorice or mint (for that minty-fresh taste).
TROTTER'S ORIENTAL. DENTIFRICE or ASIATIC TOOTH POWDER, has been for twenty years recommended, a single box is a sufficient quantity to ascertain its efficacy and virtues; being acknowled by the most respectable medical authorises, used by many and commended The Powder cleanses and beautifies the teeth, sweetens the breath, possesses no acid that can currode the enamel, and puts a beautiful polish on the teeth.—From its astringently it strengthens the gums, eradicates the scurvy, (which often proves the destruction of a whole set of teeth) and preserves sound teeth from decay.
It is sold wholesale and retail.
La Belle Assemblée, Volume 2
And our Regency folk — being inventive — did create their own do-it-yourself toothpaste.
Take of fresh conserve of roses, 2oz the juice of half a sour lemon, a little very rough claret, and 6 ounces of coral tooth powder. Make them into a paste, Which put in small pots; and if it dry by standing, moisten with lemon juice and wine, as before.
Do you make any of your own health and beauty aids? Your own soap? Maybe some face splash from the herb garden? Some lucky commenter wins any one of my books she chooses.