Monday, October 29, 2012

specimens of the literature of sweden - tube of toothpaste


Tube of toothpaste, bought in Sweden. The name is probably familiar to you. Pepsodent was originally a big American brand owned by Unilever whose publicity wrote itself into US national culture. E.g. in South Pacific (1949): 

Bloody Mary's chewin' betel nuts. 
And she don't use Pepsodent!

But the makers of Pepsodent were late to adopt fluoride, and after the 1950s the brand lost ground to Colgate and others. (Today's Pepsodent in the US is a budget toothpaste, no longer owned by Unilever.)  At one time Pepsodent was also a major brand in the UK, but it's long gone.

In some other countries, however, the Pepsodent brand retains its prestige and is still a Unilever product; and one of these countries is Finland. This is basically a Finnish tube of toothpaste, hence the languages on the tube are Finnish and Swedish, along with "Big Size" , a bit of decorative English. Swedish does double service,  both for the Swedish-speaking minority within Finland and for consumers in neighbouring Sweden.

The pitch for this particular type of Pepsodent is the presence of Xylitol, a plant-derived sweetener that, unusually, is actively good for your teeth. This beneficial property was established by researchers at the University of Turku (in Finland) in the 1970s. Xylitol is usually sourced from hardwood or maize, so the birch-leaf on the tube may be appropriate.

Of course, this toothpaste contains Fluoride too. Xylitol has not, so far as I know, caught the public imagination over here in the UK. Some sceptics doubt if Xylitol+Fluoride shows any benefits over Fluoride alone; others say that the quantities of Xylitol required to achieve tangible benefit are much higher than what you could get in a blob of toothpaste. I apologize for repeating this negative stuff. My experience is that dismissals are usually less researched than the claims they hope to refute.

It's interesting to see the converging internationalization of language on this tube. Thus "placque" becomes "plakkia" in Finnish, "plack" in Swedish. At the time of these 1920s ads from Britain and South Africa it was known as "film"; in those days the connotations of "film" tended to be negative, but this all changed with the spread of cinema and cameras. The word "Xylitol" remains unchanged in Swedish, but in Finnish it becomes "ksylitoli" - Finnish gets by with quite a small alphabet.

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