If you’ve never heard of tooth powder, you’re hardly alone. Although it has been around for thousands of years, tooth powder has fallen out of favor over the last, oh, six or seven decades. It was the dentifrice of choice in our house when I was a kid—Dr. Lyon’s Tooth Powder, to be specific. My father was the tooth expert, and he believed powder cleaned better. He must not have been the only parent who thought that way, because I remember going to summer camp and seeing lots of other kids brushing with powder. We graduated to toothpaste around the time I was 10, and from then on it was Colgate as we know it today.

It took some time, but toothpaste started replacing tooth powder way back around 1850, though originally it was sold in jars, not tubes. Today, there are more varieties of toothpaste than you can count: the regular kind with fluoride, stuff for whitening, some with baking soda, formulas for sensitive teeth and stain fighting, yada yada.

As for tooth powder? It’s hard to find in a drugstore or grocery. Online, though, pricey boutique brands seem to be making a comeback with shoppers who favor natural, organic or artisanal products. Some even claim that tooth powder sold in tablet form is better for the environment because it’s packaged in recyclable bags instead of tubes. I’m not sure whether toothpaste is any better or worse than tooth powder. One thing’s for sure, though: It’s more convenient, and, I guess, convenience equals progress.

LARRY COHEN, Benco Dental’s chairman and chief customer advocate, has over the past half-century collected hundreds of unique dental artifacts, which reside at Benco’s home office in Pittston, Pennsylvania.