What could be more familiar in our daily routines than our toothbrushes? Most use it at least once a day, some two or three times we stick it in our mouths and trust it will do its job – clean breath and healthy teeth for life.
This is the Wikipedia definition of the toothbrush:
The toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth, gums and tongue.
It consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles atop of which toothpaste is supposed to go–mounted
on a handle, which facilitates the cleaning of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
Pretty utilitarian. But have you ever thought about, the origins of this object you stuff into your mouth every day without a scant thought about who invented it and when? For how long have these instruments we take for granted been around, and what impact has it had on our lives? Let’s explore.
The toothbrush has a fascinating history. Next time you stick one into your mouth for your morning or evening rituals, give it a little respect.
Exactly how old is the practice of dental hygiene? Would you believe a little over 5, 500 years ago, people living in the region of Sumer, one of the oldest civilisations in the region of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), were known to use chew sticks, which were twigs with frayed ends that they used to brush their teeth and a sharp tip at the other as a toothpick.
The bristle brush originated in China during the Tang dynasty (619-907) and it was made from hog bristles attached to a bamboo stick or a bone.
The bristle toothbrush was introduced to Europe by travellers from China and was widely used by the 17th century. The Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes imported from China too firm and made their own toothbrushes using horsehair which was softer and more pliable. Mass produced toothbrushes made with horse or boar bristle continued to be imported to England from China until the mid 20th century (Wikipedia)
“In Europe, William Addis of England is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780.
In 1770, he had been jailed for causing a riot. While in prison he decided that using a rag with soot and salt on the teeth
was ineffective and could be improved. After saving a small bone from a meal, he drilled small holes into the bone
and tied into the bone tufts of bristles that he had obtained from one of the guards, passed the tufts of bristle through the holes
in the bone and sealed the holes with glue.
After his release, he became wealthy after starting a business manufacturing
toothbrushes. He died in 1808, bequeathing the business to his eldest son. It remained within family ownership until
1996. Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year
in the UK. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass produced in England, France, Germany, and Japan.
Pig bristles were used for cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair for the more expensive ones”. (Wikipedia)
During the 1900s, celluloid gradually replaced bone handles. Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibres usually nylon in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush was invented in Switzerland in 1954. By the turn of the 21st century, nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles and the handles were usually moulded from thermoplastic materials.
So, now you know the very old history of the toothbrush. Thousands of years ago, our so-called ‘primitive’ ancestors did their best to look after their pearly whites too. History can teach us something after all.