Project Pandora: Oral hygiene and toothpaste consumption in emerging markets


There is little that might stand better as a proxy for the mundane than brushing ones teeth. Ritualised to the point of automation, conducted with no consideration or emotion, it is embedded in the lives of western consumers' way past the point of active consideration. Yet, as an act of personal hygiene it also stands for one of the most fundamental components of cultural life.

From the perspective of cultural theory 'hygiene' represents the regulation of the categories by which we come to know and understand the world around us. Crucially the idea of 'contamination' as a threat to the social order presents a powerful lens through which communities define themselves. More specifically teeth act (to borrow from the epic of Gilgamesh) as 'guardians of the fortress of intestines', defending the inner self from the pollution of the outside world. Teeth stand at the boundary between self and other. Mundane as they may seem, the cultural role they have to play is crucial.