Toothbrushes are man’s best friend – sorry dogs. In a recent study, voters unanimously chose the toothbrush as the one great invention from recent history that we cannot live without, beating out the microwave, automobile and television. So, where did the toothbrush come from? Have we always brushed our teeth? Let’s find out where our constant tooth companion came from.
The first record of ancient toothbrushes comes to us from ancient Babylon. “Chewsticks” have been found next to buried Babylonians and dated back to 3500 BC. These rudimentary toothbrushes were twigs that had two uses: one end was frayed by a rock and used for brushing, while the other end was sharpened and used as a tooth pick. “Chewsticks” were also used by the ancient Egyptians, ancient Chinese and the Greeks and Romans.
The first bristled toothbrush is credited to the Chinese Tang Dynasty, which existed between 619 and 907. The bristles were likely made of the coarse hairs of hogs indigenous to the area. Bones and bamboo were used as the handle, and had tiny holes drilled into one end where the hair was inserted. Toothbrushes with hog hair were exported from China through the 17th century, though Europeans found the bristles too firm for their gums and they began using horse hair as a softer alternative.
Toothbrushes began being mass produced in 1780, when William Addis left prison. While incarcerated, Addis wanted a way to clean his teeth other than using a rag doused in water, charcoal and salt. He fashioned a bone together with horse hair bristles and used that to clean his teeth while in jail. After his release, he founded the Addis Company, and his toothbrushes became wildly popular in London and across Europe. He manufactured 4 types of toothbrushes: Gents, Ladies, Child’s and Tom Thumb. His company, Wisdom Toothbrush / Addis Housewares, still exists today.
Although Addis was the first to successfully mass produce the toothbrush, the first toothbrush patent wasn’t submitted until 1857 to American H.N. Wadsworth. Despite the fact that the patent was accepted in 1857, mass production in the US did not begin until 1885.
Over 150 years after Addis began producing his toothbrushes, the DuPont Company invented nylon 1935, and thus the modern toothbrush was born. Nylon bristled toothbrushes are much more sanitary and effective than hair based models, and offered the public a cleaner way to brush. In 1938, nylon threaded toothbrushes went into production.
The first electric toothbrush was the Broxodent, invented in Switzerland in 1958. Similar to today’s models, the Broxodent used a vibrating brush head to clean teeth. However, batteries were not as modern as they are today, so the Broxodent and other similar models had to be plugged in to work.
From chewing sticks, to brushing with horsehair, the toothbrush has aged quite well. Today, there are thousands of toothbrushes to choose from, but we recommend getting one with the ADA seal of approval. And remember to brush twice per day for two minutes at a time.