History of the Toothbrush

Ah, the toothbrush. This little device is a stalwart hero of good dental hygiene, the front line on the war against plaque, tartar, cavities and mouth disease. You use it twice a day, every day (we hope), put it away, and think nothing more of it. The most innocuous tools can sometimes have the most interesting history, a history we’ll often neglect to tell because the item is so mundane. With that in mind, we’re going to shine a spotlight on the humble toothbrush, so that you can appreciate to a greater extent its importance, and use it better as a tool.

Back in the day, people used chew sticks in order to clean their teeth. One end of the chew stick was frayed, while the other was pointed and could be used as a toothpick. Chew sticks were somewhat effective at getting rid of plaque buildup, and you can see the same principle used in nature; dogs will chew on bone and sticks in order to clean their teeth, and specially formulated chew sticks have been created for animals. Historically, most chew sticks were made from plants that were high in tannins, which have antibacterials qualities; these tannins exist in tea, which may also be good for oral health (though not necessarily because of the tannins).

There were a variety of other tools used to keep teeth clean, including the use of soot covered rags. A man named William Addis was thrown in jail for inciting riots; he used the soot covered rag technique, but felt it was all together ineffective. While he was in prison, he took an animal bone from a meal he’d eaten and drilled holes into it. He asked the prison guards for some bristles, which he obtained and then fastened to his animal bone by tying them in tufts and passing them through holes. He held the bristles fast with glue, and created a toothbrush!

Being an enterprising man, Addis decided to mass-produce his toothbrush in the year 1780. He found tremendous success in this endeavor, creating a company called Wisdom Toothbrushes. That company is still in business in the UK today, and manufactures millions of toothbrushes each year. That may seem like a lot, but it’s important to remember that your toothbrush should only stay in use for about 4 months of every year; once those four months are over, it’s time to get a new one! When you do, opt for one with soft bristles; medium or hard bristles can actually hurt your gums.

In the modern era, there are all kinds of smart toothbrushes, but powered or unpowered isn’t what makes the most difference; whatever encourages you to brush for two minutes twice a day is the brush you should go with. Regular brushing can alleviate the need for a teeth whitening procedure, as your teeth will be whiter by virtue of having less plaque. That said, over time you might still find your teeth are stained, and professional whitening procedures are available.