Tag Archives: oral hygiene history

The History of Toothbrushes

November 25, 2014

Ever wonder how people used to brush their teeth back before the modern day toothbrush was invented? If you’re someone who cannot live without your electric toothbrush, it may be interesting for you to see how far we’ve come.

Toothbrush-like tools age back to 3500-3000 BC, but back then they looked nothing like they do today. These toothbrush-like tools used by the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians were made by fraying the end of a twig. At the other end of these tools was a toothpick like device. These were discovered alongside owners in tombs.

Later, in 1600 BC, ancient Chinese cultures chewed on aromatic sticks to freshen breath. They also are believed to have created the first toothbrush made with bristles in the 15th century when they attached a hog’s hair to a bone or bamboo handle. In Europe, this design was adapted to use horse hair or feathers, which were softer. The earliest recorded use of the word toothbrush in the English language was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood in 1690.

The first toothbrush with a modern design was invented by William Addis around 1780. He carved the handle out of cattle bone and the bristles were still made from swine hair.

Natural bristles were used until 1938, but they were not ideal materials because they retained bacteria easily and did not dry well. The invention of nylon led to the creation of the first truly modern toothbrush. By 1950, softer nylon bristles were used as these are more comfortable for gums and actually recommended by dentists.

In 1954, the first electric toothbrush was invented in Switzerland.

Although the toothbrush has gone through a long historical transformation, its fundamental form has not changed much since 3500 BC – a handle to grip and a bristle-like feature to clean.