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The History of the Toothbrush

Strobel Dentistry

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Such a small thing, but they’re so important. And so many uses – we’ve seen toothbrushes clean teeth, scrub grout, even  save space stations! So we thought it’d be fun to take a quick look at the history of this useful little guy.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered a variety of materials used in oral hygiene from before recorded history: tree twigs, bird feathers and porcupine quills to name a few. There are cultures that continue along these ancient traditions today: the Miswak, for instance, is a popular choice of twig in Muslim inhabited countries, and Neem twigs are quite common in India and surrounding areas.

The bristled toothbrush that we know and love is thought to have begun in China during the Tang Dynasty (619 – 607 BCE) and was comprised of hog bristles. There is evidence, however, from archeological digs that place bristled toothbrushes in Africa as early as 1600 BCE. From there our timeline gets a little more specific:

1223 – Japanese Zen master Dōgen Kigen recorded seeing Chinese monks clean their teeth using horse hair brushes with ox-bone handles.

17th c. – Europe adopts use of the toothbrush as a result of brushes being brought back from China by travelers.

1690 – The autobiography of Anthony Wood contains the earliest identified use of the word toothbrush.

1770 – William Addis of England jailed for starting a riot; begins searching for alternatives to the currently accepted prison practice of rubbing a rag with soot and salt on the teeth to clean them.

1780 – William Addis founds a company and begins mass-producing his version of the bristled toothbrush – as of mid-2012, they were still producing under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes.

1840 – Toothbrushes are now being mass-produced in England, France, Germany and Japan, with pig bristle seen on cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair on the higher end models.

1857 – H.N. Wadsworth acquired the first toothbrush patent (US Patent No. 18,653) in the United States.

1885 - The United States sees its first mass production of tooth brushes.

1900s – Celluloid handles gradually replace bone.

1938 - Dupont de Nemours manufactures the first nylon bristle toothbrushes.

1945 – The end of World War II and the return of soldiers, who had to brush their teeth daily, finally introduces tooth-brushing as a routine for families in the U.S.

1954 – The Broxodent, the first electric toothbrush, is invented in Switzerland.

1980s – Johnson & Johnson releases the “Reach” toothbrush, the first toothbrush designed especially to increase effectiveness. Other manufacturers soon followed with more effective models of their own.

2003 - Lemelson-MIT Invention Index lists the toothbrush as the number one invention Americans could not live without.

Whatever model – of the hundreds now available – you choose, there’s no denying the importance of this nifty little contraption. Now that you’re a toothbrush history buff, stop by our oral hygiene home care blog for tips on how to best make use of one!

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