Welcome to history Tuesday and this week I am going to talk a little about the history of the toothbrush. The earliest identified use of the word toothbrush in English was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood (whoever he was) who wrote that in 1690 he bought a toothbrush for J Barret.
Apparently way back in 3500 BC the Babylonians and Egyptians are supposed to have made a form of toothbrush by fraying the end of a twig and in tombs these toothsticks have been found alongside the dead.
Around 1600BC, the Chinese developed “chewing sticks” which were made from aromatic tree twigs to freshen breath.
The Greeks and Romans used toothpicks to clean their teeth and toothpick-like twigs have been excavated in Quin Dynasty tombs. The chew sticks remain common in Africa and the rural Southern United States- and in the Islamic world the use of chewing stick Miswak is considered a pious action, and has been prescribed to be used before every prayer five times a day Miswak has been used by Muslims since 7th Century AD.
The Chinese are believed to have invented the first natural bristle toothbrush made from the bristles from pigs’ necks in the 15th century, with the bristles attached to a bone or bamboo handle. Although when it was brought from China to Europe, this design was adapted and often used softer horsehairs which many Europeans preferred. It is also believed that feathers were used in early Europe
The first bristle toothbrush, resembling the modern toothbrush, was found in China during the Tang Dynasty(619–907) and used hog bristle. The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were then attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought back from China to Europe by travellers. It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century
The first toothbrush of a more modern design was made by William Addis in England around 1780 – the handle was carved from cattle bone and the brush portion was still made from swine bristles. In 1844, the first 3-row bristle brush was designed. It was while he was in gaol for causing a riot that he decided that the method used for cleaning ones teeth was ineffective at the time it was common to just rub a rag with soot and salt over the teeth.
So he saved a small animal bone left over from the meal he had eaten the previous night, into which he drilled small holes. He then obtained some bristles from one of his guards, which he tied in tufts that he then passed through the holes in the bone, and which he finally sealed with glue. After his release, he started a business that would manufacture the toothbrushes he had built, and he soon became very rich. He died in 1808, and left the business to his eldest son, also called William, and it stayed in family ownership until 1996.
Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. By1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in England, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristle was used for cheaper toothbrushes, and badger hair for the more expensive ones.
Natural bristles were the only source of bristles until someone named Du Pont invented nylon. The invention of nylon started the development of the truly modern toothbrush in 1938, and by the 1950s softer nylon bristles were being made, as people preferred these. The first electric toothbrush was made in 1939 and the first electric toothbrush in the US was the Broxodent in 1960.
Today, both manual and electric toothbrushes come in many shapes and sizes and are typically made of plastic moulded handles and nylon bristles. The most recent toothbrush models include handles that are straight, angled, curved, and contoured with grips and soft rubber areas to make them easier to hold and use. Toothbrush bristles are usually synthetic and range from very soft to soft in texture, although harder bristle versions are available. Toothbrush heads range from very small for young children to larger sizes for older children and adults and come in a variety of shapes such as rectangular, oblong, oval and almost round.
The basic fundamentals have not changed since the times of the Egyptians and Babylonians – a handle to grip, and a bristle-like feature with which to clean the teeth. Over its long history, the toothbrush has evolved to become a scientifically designed tool using modern ergonomic designs and safe and hygienic materials that benefit us all.