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  • Dr Vidya Varathan Dental Care

Looking Back At The Invention Of The Toothbrush

Well, we might want to sometimes go and thank the person who graced us with the modern toothbrush. It truly has transformed our lives, and we cannot imagine a day to day without it. But tracing the invention of the toothbrush is a little trickier than you’d expect.

Humans have been brushing their teeth for over a 1000 years. That’s more than a millenia of oral hygiene to brag about! We started somewhere around 5000 BC and well, we’ve only gotten better.

From Ox Hooves to Sticks and Cloth

Egyptians started the trend of cleaning their teeth by using a crushed up a mixture of ox hooves and eggshells and making a powder that was abrasive enough to scrub teeth. They did evolve a lot in their oral hygiene methods- and eventually found the stick that Romans too had been using.

The Romans maybe took an earlier (and perhaps, better?) route by using sticks with frayed ends. This method actually lasted for a long time and has been observed in many other cultures- even fairly recently. They are referred to as chew sticks and are often chewed and then spat out, cleaning the teeth. Some even fashioned the stick such that one end was for chewing while the other was made pointed and sharp- perhaps intended to be used as a toothpick.

The Greeks went another route altogether by using the rough cloth to scrub their teeth.

These methods were all derived from existing materials by simply using them in a different way. The very first attempt at a deliberately fashioned toothbrush comes from a different place altogether.

The Tang Dynasty: Making Toothbrushes

So about 700 to 800 years ago, the widespread Tang Dynasty in China made what could be called a prototype of the modern toothbrush. They did this by taking bamboo, and even ivory handles and sticking on coarse or rough animal hairs. The hair was stuck on by drilling a hole and sticking the hairs at the end. These were perhaps taken from the wild animals such as hogs.

Later on, as European scholars travelled and spread about, they took these inventions along with them back to Europe. Later, these brushes were revamped and made with horsehair, as the English found hog hair too coarse and uncomfortable.

The Modern Toothbrush

William Addis, an Englishman, finds himself in jail on account of a riot. He wasn’t fond of using charcoal and salt water to clean his teeth and fashioned a toothbrush for himself- much like the Chinese. After prison, he mass produced these units and since then, there’s been no looking back for this humble invention.

A Brief History

We’ve come a long way, from ox horns and eggshells to slightly better chew sticks- and even using ragged cloth like the Greeks. Finally, the Chinese Tang Dynasty revolutionized their life with a hog hair bristle and ivory/wood handle toothbrush. This then inspired the Europeans, particularly William Addis, an Englishman, which led to the toothbrush becoming well known (and well sold)- eventually getting reinvented to what we know it to be today.

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