A few weeks ago, I traveled out of town and left my toothpaste at home. No problem, I thought: just roll over to the nearest pharmacy and grab a tube. The only problem was that I wound up at CVS, which I had forgotten doesn’t carry Pepsodent, the brand I use exclusively unless I’m in a situation in which there are zero other options.
It’s absurd that CVS doesn’t carry my staple, but first, a little bit about Pepsodent for those of you who consider it a relic. Around for a whole century, it has been celebrated in songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and boosted by celebrities like Clark Gable and Shirley Temple, who were huge back when there were only, like, a dozen well-known actors. Perhaps most famously, in the 1940s, the paste served as the namesake sponsor of The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show.
As legend has it, OG advertising guru (read: iconic liar) Claude Hopkins brilliantly set up the straw man of “film,” which he derided as “a dangerous coating that robs teeth of their whiteness.” He also helped style the popular catchphrase, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!” in cahoots with the federal government, which considered dental decay to be a considerable public health threat at the time. Less than 10% of people reportedly brushed, and by equating oral cleanliness with healthy living, the story goes that Hopkins bridged the gap, so to speak.
According to information that I found online but can’t seem to verify with a reputable source, “within 10 years of being introduced, an estimated 65% of households had a tube of Pepsodent in their medicine cabinet.” It’s a ridiculous statistic—even if that many people owned the product, who’s to say they kept it behind the mirror above the sink in their bathroom? Nevertheless, you get my point, which is that Pepsodent was way bigger way back then than it is these days; according to completely unreliable contemporary stats, it’s anywhere from the seventh most popular toothpaste in the US to not even one of the top 20. In any case, it doesn’t compare to the halcyon days—some armchair experts even suggest that many Americans are in the routine of having biannual check-ups because of a post-World War II catchphrase, “Use Pepsodent every day—see your dentist twice a year.”
There’s a lot more to know and love about Pepsodent—it’s owned by a New Jersey company that bought the brand from the behemoth Unilever in 2003; it has had a love-hate relationship with the American Dental Association for nearly a century, and currently lacks an ADA seal of approval; and so on. Oh, and of course, it’s delicious.
Most important, however, is that Pepsodent only costs 99 cents, as it has forever, or at least since I began brushing with it nearly three decades ago. There aren’t many things that you can say that about, and it’s a crying shame. I know that I sound like your grandfather on blow right now—they don’t make things like they used to—but that’s okay. Because if spending seven bucks on Crest or Colgate so that mega pharmacies like CVS can make a chunk of cheddar off my shredders is the proper modern thing to do, I’m not sure that I care enough about being a respectable member of society to bother brushing in the first place.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.