For many of us, brushing the teeth is an indispensable routine that helps prevent cavities and tooth decay. But did you ever wonder when this important oral regimen started? Who invented the first toothbrush?
The Babylonians are credited as the first to use what appears to be the forerunner of the modern toothbrush. In those times, there weren’t many designs to choose from but they managed to get by with a chewing stick as early as 3500 B.C.
The chewing stick started out as a toothpick which was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. No bigger than a pencil, the chewing stick was literally chewed on one end until it became a crude brush while the other end was pointed. Part toothbrush and part toothpick, this device was used by the Chinese in 1600 B.C. to clean teeth. The sticks or twigs used came from aromatic trees that helped keep the breath fresh.
“Many peoples used different forms of toothbrushes. Indian medicine (Ayurveda) has used the neem tree and its products to create toothbrushes and similar products for millennia. A person chews one end of the neem twig until it somewhat resembles the bristles of a toothbrush, and then uses it to brush the teeth. In the Muslim world, the miswak or siwak made from a twig or root with antiseptic properties has been widely used since the Islamic Golden Age. Rubbing baking soda or chalk against the teeth was also common,” said the editors of Wikipedia.
“The first bristled toothbrush originates from China and was brought back to Europe by traders. It was made from hairs from the neck of the Siberian wild boar, which were fixed to a bamboo or bone handle. In Europe, where very few people brushed their teeth, it was found that wild boar hairs were too stiff and made the gums bleed, so horse hair, which was softer, was used instead. It was still more customary in Europe to use a toothpick after meals, made of a goose feather, silver or copper,” added the BBC.
Although the Chinese are credited with inventing the modern toothbrush in the late 1400s, it was William Addis of England who popularized them in 1780. At that time, he was in jail for causing a riot and the usual way of cleaning teeth then was by rubbing a rag on the teeth with soot and salt. Addis felt this was not enough so he took a small animal bone, drilled holes in it and glued animal bristles in them.
For this, he became a wealthy man and his invention was mass produced by his descendants in the 19th century. These were made of cattle bones and the bristles came from either wild boar or horse hair.
In 1937, Wallace H. Carothers of the Du Pont Laboratories in the United States invented nylon, putting an end to the misery presumably experienced by the Siberian wild boar and the common horse. This was welcome news for many since boar hair retained bacteria, didn’t dry well and often fell out of the brush.
In contrast, nylon was tough, resilient, dried easily and didn’t harbor bacteria. From 1938 onwards, toothbrush bristles were made of nylon and was first used by Dr. West’s Miracle Tuft Toothbrush.
The early nylon toothbrushes, however, were stiff and damaged the gums that dentists didn’t recommend them. By the 1950s, Du Pont introduced the Park Avenue Toothbrush – an expensive brand that used soft nylon.
But the concept of brushing teeth became widespread in the United States only during World War II when American troops were forced to do so as part of their daily routine. They brought home this practice to their families when the war ended.
“In 1939 the first electric toothbrush was produced in Switzerland, but didn’t appear on the open market until the 1960s. It appeared on the American market, produced by Squibb and was called Broxodent. The first cordless rechargeable electric toothbrush was introduced by General Electric at the same time. However, it wasn’t until 1987 that the rotary action electrical toothbrush appeared in the shops,’ revealed the BBC.