The Invention and Transformation of the Toothbrush

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When you think of dental innovations, you’re probably thinking of the safe products used in teeth whitening or how dental implants make it possible for people to give up dentures and experience the closest possible option to natural teeth. However, at one point, even the toothbrush was an innovation, and nothing has had an impact on dental health like this. As we continue to look back at dental history, our Fuquay Varina dentist wanted to take the opportunity to share how toothbrushes have changed (and how they’ve stayed the same!).

Toothbrushes in Ancient Times

The most important instrument in dental health is the toothbrush. As we mentioned in our recent blog about dentistry in ancient times, the Ancient Egyptians were quite advanced where dental care was concerned, so it should come as no surprise that the first toothbrush dates back to around 3500 BCE where sticks with frayed edges, called chew sticks, were used to clean teeth. In China, similar chew sticks were found, though they were made from herbs and aromatic trees to freshen breath.

The Invention of Bristled Toothbrushes

Similarly to how the first dental amalgam was found in China during the Tang Dynasty, dating to between 619 and 907 ADE, so was the first toothbrush like we would recognize today. However, a handle with bristles on one end is where the similarity stops. Those toothbrushes had handles carved from bone or bamboo and coarse bristles made from boar hairs.

Surprisingly, these types of bristled toothbrushes were primarily only used in Asia until European travelers visited China in the 17th Century and brought back brushes. Europeans then started making their own brushes from cows’ bones and pig hair or horse hair. By the 1840s, toothbrushes with natural animal hair bristles were manufactured for general sale in shops and had three-row designs to improve tooth cleaning capability.

Toothbrushes in the 20th Century

Innovations in plastic brought about the toothbrush we know and use today. The invention of nylon led to synthetic brush bristles that replaced animal hair, though these original bristles were very stiff, hard, and could even damage enamel and gum tissue. By the 1950s, manufacturers were using softer materials that were still effective, while making it a more gentle experience.

The next most recent innovation in toothbrushes is in 1960 with the arrival of the electric toothbrush on the market. While some saw them more as a novelty, these were praised by dentists and advocates for the elderly and disabled because it made it easier and more comfortable for people with arthritis and other conditions to maintain their dental health.

In the grand scheme, today’s toothbrushes aren’t that different than the brushes of hundreds (or thousands) of years ago. A hard handle with one end covered in stiff bristles. However, small innovations lead to big changes! Today, soft nylon, tapered shapes, angled handles, and small shifts and adjustments go a long way toward making it more comfortable and effective to maintain your dental health.

Schedule Your Dental Checkup and Teeth Cleaning Today

While brushing your teeth is an essential part of dental health, getting regular checkups and professional cleanings are too! To schedule an appointment with our Fuquay-Varina dentists give us a call at  919-552-2431 or fill out the form below to get started.