The History of Your Toothbrush

June 3, 2015 6:51 pm Published by

Have you ever been in the middle of your morning or nighttime teeth brushing routine and paused in wonderment of the instrument in your hand? When did it come to be? What early versions of the tool might your predecessors have used, and why are some of the bristles a different color? Hmm… We hope to answer a few such burning questions here.

According to all-knowing Wikipedia, oral hygiene practices have existed since before recorded history. That’s a long time ago! Archeological excavations have uncovered chew sticks, tree twigs, animal bones, porcupine quills, and birth feathers used for teeth maintenance. The chew stick is apparently the most closely recognizable forerunner to the toothbrush we know today. One end of the stick – literally a twig – had frayed edges used to brush the teeth, and the other end was made pointy to use as a toothpick. Chew sticks have been discovered dating back to 3500 BC.

Toothbrushes with bristles came onto the scene in China during the Chang Dynasty circa 619-907. The firm bristles came from hogs in northern China and Siberia, and they were attached to a handle of bamboo or bone. Aren’t you glad that your bristle choices are soft, medium, or hard as opposed to a selection of various swine breed hairs? Europe thought this particular oral hygiene trend worth adopting in the 17th century after travelers brought them home from China. History suggests that the Europeans preferred softer bristles made from horsehair.

In the late 1700s, William Addis is believed to be the first to mass-produce toothbrushes. He happened to be in jail for causing a riot when he deemed the current method for cleaning teeth in prison to be inadequate. They were rubbing rags with salt and soot on the teeth. Yuck! Addis fashioned a toothbrush while still in jail that, upon his release, he started a business to make and sell. His version of the toothbrush made him very rich until his death in 1808, when he left his business to his son. It stayed in the family until 1996, which is impressive. This UK toothbrush manufacturer now produces 70 million brushes per year. A true oral hygiene success story!

In 1857, the first US patent for a toothbrush was granted to H. N. Wadsworth. Mass production began a few decades later in 1885. Since the animal hair bristles often fell out, didn’t dry well, and also retained bacteria, teeth brushing didn’t really catch on in the US until World War II. Synthetic fiber bristles and plastic handles were eventually developed during the 1900s, with the first nylon bristle brush going on sale in 1938.

The toothbrush’s journey didn’t end there. Since then, electric toothbrushes have been added to the mix, plus a myriad of other bells and whistles for the manual toothbrush (including those colored bristles that you were wondering about). In 2003, the toothbrush was honored to be chosen as one of the top inventions that Americans couldn’t live without (according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index). We heartily agree. From all of us at Dental Solutions in Avon, here’s to you, toothbrush!

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