The Toothbrush: Brushing up on History

You brush your teeth every day with a toothbrush, or so we hope! But, have you ever wondered how the toothbrush came about? The history of the toothbrush is actually kind of interesting.

The toothbrush as we know it today was not invented until 1938. However, early forms of the toothbrush have been in existence since 3500 BC. The first “toothbrushes” were actually small sticks with frayed ends, called “chew sticks”, which were used by ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans to scrub their teeth. Babylonian chew sticks are probably the oldest oral hygiene artifacts on record.

Ancient Chew Stick

The Chinese are believed to be the first to fashion a natural bristle toothbrush, around the 15th century. This toothbrush was composed of boar-hair bristles inserted into a handle made of bone or bamboo. The use of this instrument to clean teeth was documented in writing in 1223 by a Japanese Zen master traveling in China.

Ancient Chinese Toothbrush

The first toothbrush of a more modern design was created by William Addis, in England around 1780. While in prison, Addis crafted a toothbrush made from cow bones and the hair of cow tails. Upon his release from prison, Addis begin producing toothbrushes in mass and selling them in London. Addis’ toothbrush enterprise expanded into a prosperous company, Wisdom Toothbrushes, which still exists today.

W Addis toothbrush

By the 1840s toothbrushes were being mass-produced all across Europe, but the first U.S. patent for a toothbrush wasn’t filed until 1857, by H.N. Wadsworth (US Patent No. 18,653). Mass production of toothbrushes began in the United States 30 years later. These brushes still used animal hair.

H N Wadsworth toothbrush and patent

Natural animal bristles were eventually replaced by synthetic fibers. In 1935, the fiber known as nylon was patented by Du Pont Laboratories and in 1938 nylon bristles made their way into toothbrushes. The first nylon toothbrush was introduced under the brand name “Doctor West’s Miracle-Tuft Toothbrush”.

Dr. West's Dupont toothbrush

That brings us to the last stage of toothbrush evolution: The electric toothbrush. The first electric toothbrush was developed in Switzerland in 1939. In 1960, Squibb marketed the first American electrical toothbrush in the United States called the Broxodent. General Electric introduced a rechargeable cordless toothbrush in 1961.

Broxodent Toothbrush

Today, both manual and electric toothbrushes come in many shapes and sizes. Manual toothbrushes are typically made of plastic molded handles and nylon bristles, although you can find ecological toothbrushes made with recyclable and bamboo handles, to help reduce environmental impact. 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 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.

Electric & Manual Toothbrush

As you can see the toothbrush has come a long way! But, no matter what kind of toothbrush you prefer, remember to care for your teeth and gums by brushing for at least two minutes, twice a day, everyday, and seeing Dr. Griffin at least twice a year for a cleaning and exam.

Here at Paul A. Griffin, DDS, we believe in the importance of keeping your teeth and gums clean and healthy.  If you are in need of a cleaning, or simply have some questions regarding your own dental health, please call us anytime at (972) 242-2155…we would love to hear from you! Or, you can use the “Ask Dr. Griffin” form at the top of this page.