The History of the Toothbrush

toothbrush and toothpaste on plain white surface

Toothbrushes come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. From manual toothbrushes, to electric ones, the toothbrush is the tool we use for daily brushing, ensuring stellar oral hygiene. But, have you ever wondered how the toothbrush came to be? Dr. James Fondriest, founder of Lake Forest Dental Arts, explores the rich history of this most beloved device, essential for cleaning the teeth.

The First Toothbrush

The Babylonians and Egyptians crafted one of the earliest toothbrushes in 3000-3500 BC. They used frayed ends of twigs to clean their teeth. They called the twig a “chew stick”, and broke the twigs off from aromatic trees, which provided refreshment for the mouth.

In 1600 BC, the Chinese developed the first bristled toothbrush made from the hair of hogs. They attached the bristles to bamboo or bone handles. Later, the Europeans altered the Chinese concept. Instead of using the hair of hogs for bristles, they used the hair of wild boars and horses. Wild boar hair was more commonly used, due to horse hair being more expensive and difficult to obtain in Europe.

When the Pilgrims left England and landed on Plymouth Rock in 1621, they had to invent a new way to care for their teeth. Using what they had around them, the Pilgrims had to forego horsehair bristles and scrape their teeth with bones and feathers to remove plaque from their pearly whites. It’s also likely that the Pilgrims rubbed salt on their teeth as an abrasive cleaner to remove grime and kill bacteria.

Native Americans, on the other hand, took the more natural, earthy route when it came to their dental care. They used various herbs, such as sage and tarragon, to remove plaque from their teeth and freshen their breath. Some tribes were very scientifically advanced and used the cucacua plant to create a paste that they used to clean their teeth.

The Evolution of the Toothbrush

In 1780, William Addis of England developed the first mass-produced toothbrush. Addis, a prisoner, was often cited for instigating riots. He was also known for wanting to look clean and kempt. He carved a small brush handle from bone and then inserted boar bristles, held together by wires, at the top of the newly-fashioned brush. He later mass-produced his invention after leaving prison.

As the toothbrush gained popularity, Addis saw his business grow. He later died in 1808, leaving his prosperous toothbrush business to his son, who was also named William. Later, the toothbrushes were exported to the United States and business continued to grow at an unprecedented rate. During World War II, the Addis toothbrush company had over 600 employees. These workers manufactured the patented toothbrushes using the first injection molding machines, which were purchased by the Addis family.

Wisdom Toothbrushes, the brand launched by the Addis family, grew into Britain’s leading toothbrush manufacturer. In 1996, the family sold the company.

The Nylon Toothbrush Boom

In 1938, the first nylon-bristled toothbrush was produced by Dupont de Nemours. It went on sale on February 24th and was named Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrush. Later, after Americans witnessed the oral health habits of soldiers from World War II, they began to practice oral hygiene themselves, and then adopted the nylon toothbrush.

The First Electric Toothbrush

As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, innovative technological advances began to surface; one was the electric toothbrush. Around the 1880s, an Englishman began promoting an array of electrical devices, which included electric hair brushes and toothbrushes.

While there was no electric component to these devices, it was later revealed that the brushes had magnetized rods embedded in the handles.

Dr. Dr. Philippe-G. Woog is credited for inventing the world’s first electric toothbrush in 1954 under the brand name Broxodent. Dr. Woog is also known for a variety of dental equipment and dental products for home use. The electric toothbrushes Dr. Woog crafted, were initially manufactured in Switzerland for Broxo S.A.

To operate this toothbrush, the user had to plug it into a wall outlet. Electric toothbrushes were initially created for individuals with with limited motor skills and patients undergoing orthodontic treatments.

The Toothbrush Today

Today, we use our toothbrushes for the removal of plaque and bacteria and to keep cavities away. Our toothbrushes come with wide or narrow heads and vary in firmness. Electric and manual toothbrushes are packaged to us, as “must use” devices for good oral hygiene. Here are some useful as well as remarkable toothbrush facts:

  • Toothbrushes should be left out in the open: Many dentists will recommend that you store your toothbrush in a holder of some sort, and keep it out in the open. After brushing, consider rinsing your toothbrush with water to remove debris and then placing the brush in an upright position, allowing for the bristles to dry. It is also advised that you store your toothbrush away from other toothbrushes, to avoid cross-contamination. Dentists also recommend storing your toothbrush in a cool and dry place, as moist areas tend to breed bacteria.
  • The lifespan of a toothbrush: Dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every 3-4 months. Brushing your teeth with a toothbrush longer than the recommended time may not do as good of a job cleaning the teeth. Additionally, if you have been ill with a cold or a flu, it is recommended to replace your toothbrush afterward. Keeping a toothbrush longer than the recommended 3-4 months will also not provide effective toothbrushing, due to weak and fragile bristles.
  • Go soft: When deciding upon the bristles of your toothbrush, dentists recommend choosing one with soft bristles. Firm bristles may damage your gums and enamel. Furthermore, it is recommended that you use firm strokes, as opposed to vigorous brushing. Toothbrushing should not hurt, but instead effectively clean the teeth.
  • Just say no to sharing: Sharing a snack with a friend, or advice is always good, but not when it comes to toothbrushes. Never invite friends or family members to use your toothbrush. When you share a toothbrush, you are also sharing germs, bacteria and other conditions that may jeopardize your health and wellbeing.
  • Two minutes: For effective toothbrushing, try to brush your teeth for at least two minutes, twice daily. Be sure to brush your gums and tongue as well.
  • Electric toothbrushes vs. manual: When it comes to the choice of an electric toothbrush and a manual one, there is not one that is better than another. Although for individuals with arthritis or other debilitating issues of the arm or hand, an electric toothbrush may be a better choice. Manual toothbrushes offer an array of options for effective toothbrushing.

Contact Lake Forest Dental Arts

At Lake Forest Dental Arts, we proudly offer comprehensive dental services and procedures to residents of Chicago, IL and surrounding areas, including the Northwest and North Shore suburbs. To learn more, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. James Fondriest and our compassionate staff, contact us online, or by dialing (847) 234-0517. We look forward to providing you and your family with personalized care.

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