The History of the Toothbrush

The modern toothbrush you use is an essential tool for maintaining good oral hygiene. The current synthetic or nylon toothbrush has been around for decades, after undergoing many changes and evolving over time.

The Ancient Egyptians and Chew Sticks

The Ancient Egyptians are credited for many useful creations, most notably their unique instruments for dental care: chew sticks.

The predecessor of the toothbrush we use today, primitive chew sticks were typically crafted of twigs. One side served as a toothpick, while the other frayed end worked as bristles. Evidence of the oldest chew sticks was discovered in Egyptian tombs. They were used with a combination of vinegar and ground pumice to brighten teeth, but inevitably caused extensive damage to teeth and gums.

Chew sticks are still used in certain African regions. They are made from miswak, an antibiotic teeth cleaning twig that comes from the Salvadora Persica tree. This natural toothbrush alternative suppresses plaque formation, and prevents decay, cavities and gum disease without toothpaste.

Toothbrushes: From China to Europe

The chewing stick did allow for better hygiene habits and a cleaner mouth, but it didn’t compare to the modern toothbrush bristles. The toothbrush used by the Chinese population during the Tang Dynasty came closest to what we use today. The handle was made of bone or bamboo with hog hair toothbrush bristles.

Throughout the 17th century, travelers brought the dental devices back to Europe, where the early toothbrush steadily gained popularity. Since hog hairs were a bit too firm, horse hairs were sometimes used instead. But due to the prize value of horses, most toothbrush bristles were still crafted of hog hairs.

The First Mass-Produced Toothbrush

After the unique oral care device made of animal bone and fur landed in Europe, many toothbrush manufacturers were born. William Addis created the first popular mass-produced toothbrush, after being locked up in jail.

During his incarceration, he had access to only a rag with soot and salt to carry on his dental hygiene habits. Addis decided to use an animal bone drilled with holes, a few bristles obtained from accommodating guards, and glue.

Upon his release, Addis started his business, Wisdom Toothbrushes. He mass-produced his toothbrush creation, and made a fortune from sales. This lucrative venture was the first of many dental care companies.

The Nylon Toothbrush

Despite the advancements over the years, animal toothbrush bristles fell out often, failed to dry well, and they retained bacteria. Nylon yarn was introduced in 1938 by Du Pont as a replacement and gained much success.

At wartime, bones were needed for broth. As a result, celluloid toothbrush handles were created using plastic molds. This low-cost animal bone alternative was easy to mass-produce and by the 1900s, celluloid was here to stay. In 1938, synthetic fibers replaced nylon bristles.

Celluloid handles were soon replaced with more cost-effective and easier to mold thermoplastic substances. These are the materials most often used today by larger dental hygiene companies like Crest and Colgate.