As a person who is obsessed with dental hygiene and dental care, I think that the modern toothbrush is the greatest invention ever. It’s simple and very effective in cleaning our teeth. But how did it come to be? Who invented it? What did our ancestors use to clean their teeth? Were they ever concerned about dental care? Today, we’re going to try to answer these questions by going back in time and look into the history of the humble toothbrush.
Before The Toothbrush
You might be thinking that our ancestors couldn’t care less about dental hygiene. You are wrong. Twigs, bird feathers, porcupine quills and animal bones were found in excavated sites suggesting that they were used in one way or another to clean teeth. The earliest teeth cleaning instrument that was discovered is the chew stick. A chew stick is basically a twig with frayed ends used to clean the teeth while the other end was used as a toothpick. This primitive “toothbrush” was first mentioned as far back as 1600 BC.
Licorice chew stick by Shades of Afrika
The First Bristle Toothbrush
The first bristle toothbrush was found to have been used in China during the Tang Dynasty. The bristles were made of coarse and stiff bristles from a hog’s back. They were attached to handles either made of bone or bamboo. This was brought to Europe from China but Europeans found the hog bristles too stiff and opted for horsehair instead. This instrument closely resembles the modern toothbrush that we use today.
Ancient bristle toothbrush by Atlanta Artifacts
The Modern Toothbrush
By 1938, the toothbrush’s bone handle was replaced by celluloid and the animal bristles replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon. This modern toothbrush was first introduced by Dupont de Nemours. The first nylon toothbrush went on sale on February 24, 1938. The next innovation would be the electric toothbrush which was invented in 1954 in Switzerland and the rest is history.