Toothbrushes play an essential role in keeping our mouth and teeth healthy, and have for decades. But, toothbrushes have seen many changes before reaching the brightly colored dental cleaning device they are today. We take a look at how far they have come.

Ancient Egyptians and Chewing Sticks

Ancient Egyptians are responsible for many creations, most notably their unique method of keeping their mouths clean: chewing sticks. These sticks are the grandfathers of toothbrushes today. Chewing sticks were usually made from twigs that feature a pointed end that can be used as a toothpick, while the other end features a frayed end thats used to brush teeth. The earliest instance of these chewing sticks can be found in Egyptian tombs, which the Egyptians used alongside ground pumice and vinegar to achieve a whiter smile. While the use of ground pumice and vinegar didnt catch on, it did lay the groundwork for future generations to use as the basis for toothbrushes.

Toothbrushes from China to Europe

While chewing sticks provided a clean mouth, nothing can compare to the modern bristle toothbrush. The closest to this would be a toothbrush made of bamboo or bone with hog hair bristles that were common during the Tang Dynasty in China.

This use of animal bone as the handle was an innovation that was used for years to come, and one that many in the era considered a reliable resource. Thanks to this creation, travelers brought this toothbrush to Europe during the 17th century, where it slowly gained popularity. Hog hairs were a tad too firm for some, so horse hairs were also used. But, due to the high-value horses had during this time, most toothbrushes were still made with hog hairs. Despite this innovation, most of Europe still did not practice regular brushing. They instead relied on aGreek method which involved rubbing your teeth with a linen cloth on a stick that has been dipped in salt and sulfur oils.

First Mass Produced Toothbrush

Using animal bone as a handle alongside fur resulted in a simple, but effective, method for dental care. After this unique device had been spread throughout the European area, it resulted in many mass-produced toothbrush companies popping up.

The first well-known mass-produced toothbrush was created by William Addis. He came up with the idea after being jailed during a riot. At the time, he only had a rag with salt and soot to clean his teeth, so he decided to save an animal bone to remedy that. By drilling small holes inside of it and obtaining some bristles from guards, he sealed the creation with some glue and made the toothbrush. Once released from jail, he started a business called Wisdom Toothbrushes. At Wisdom, he produced toothbrushes at a large scale and built a fortune.

This stroke of luck resulted in Addis becoming the first among many to start production and set the wheels of dental care in motion. This caused a mass production of toothbrushes in England, France, Germany, and Japan. Cheaper options in these areas were designed with pig bristle and more expensive ones used with badger hair.

Modern Day Toothbrushes

Despite the advancements, animal bristle still retained bacteria, didnt dry well and the bristles often fell out. Nylon was invented as a substitute. Made by Du Pont in 1938, nylon was quickly used as a replacement through nylon yarn and saw great success upon its release.

During war, animal bones were needed for soups, as a result, a better alternative had to be used. This came in the form of celluloid handles. They were a cheap alternative and were easy to manufacture, with plastic molds to shape them. Celluloid handles became the firm replacement and they replaced the bone handles in the 1900s.

Nylon bristles were eventually replaced by synthetic fibers in 1938. The result is an easy to manufacture toothbrush that gained traction as the basis for dental care today. Shortly after, the celluloid found in handles were replaced with thermoplastic materials. These materials are cheaper and easier to mold, and are frequently used to this day by bigger dental companies such as Colgate and Crest.

Today, there are over 3000 patents for the toothbrush and virtually endless styles and colors including electric toothbrushes. With this amount of variations, there are toothbrushes that can fit the unique dental needs of every individual.


If you have any questions about toothbrushes, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-332-2444.

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