A brief look at the history of the toothbrush

In this blog update I will be briefly looking at an ordinary object that all of us use on a daily basis, usually two to three times a day (at least that’s what we’re told to do) can you guess it? It’s the toothbrush! This invention left everyone smiling with amazement and this will be the theme for my blog post.

Whilst many people associate toothbrushes with the modern-day supermarket versions, toothbrushes began early in history as nothing more than the end of twig. Indeed around 3,500 to 3,000 years ago Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were using the ends of twigs as toothbrushes with evidence of this shown alongside their remains in their tombs. To many these early forms of toothbrushes have been termed chew sticks.  The Chinese too had a similar method of cleaning their teeth and created the first bristle toothbrush in the late fifteenth century. These were created by using bristles from the necks of pigs and attaching them to a bone or bamboo handle thus creating a pre- teeth cleaning device. This idea was adapted by Europeans when contact became more fluid between China and the Middle East and then Europe though the Europeans replaced the pigs bristles with the softer horse hairs and occasionally used feathers.

The modern versions of toothbrushes started to take form in the following centuries. Whilst France took the lead in promoting the use of the toothbrush in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Englishmen, William Addis of Clerkenwald, created the first mass-produced toothbrush in about 1780. The design at this point was very similar as it was still constructed from pig’s neck bristles and the handle was still made from animal bone, though in 1844 the toothbrush evolved with the first 3-row brush. An American company called H. N. Wadsworth also began mass producing toothbrushes in 1885. Another American company, the Florence Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts was the first to box up toothbrushes. Up to this point, the toothbrush had relatively few changes it would not be until the twentieth century that the device would become beyond doubt modern.

The next stage of toothbrush development was in 1938 when the old style of brush was replaced by first nylon bristle toothbrushes. Nylon toothbrushes were invented by Dupont de Nemours and were quickly replaced as people preferred the new models and by the 1950s softer nylon bristles were being made. Electric toothbrushes were just round the corner as in 1939 they were developed in Switzerland and Broxodent, the first electric toothbrush in the US was unveiled in 1960 by the Squib Company. Toothbrushes have changed very little over the past centuries, apart from in colour and design (brush size and design) as the idea behind them stays the same. The toothbrush of today shows the same characteristics of those from Ancient Egypt and China. This concludes my very brief look at the history of toothbrushes.






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