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The History of the Toothbrush: Key Innovations in Dental Care

By Steven Kail on January 24, 2017


A woman with a toothbrushThough you may not believe it, the history of the toothbrush is longer and more interesting than you think. It spans thousands of years and reveals two things: the limits of technology at various times as well as the persistent human desire for people to have beautiful smiles. It helps you appreciate the many innovative restorative dentistry procedures available today.

The team at our Jackson practice would like to go over the history of the toothbrush in basic terms below.

The Chew Stick: An Ancestor of the Toothbrush

The toothbrush as we know it had a much different form thousands of years ago. It was twig known as a chew stick, and could be found as early as 3500 BC. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians were known to use these sticks, which had a frayed end on one side and a pointed end on the other. The frayed end could be used to brush the teeth while the pointed end could be used to pick food from between the teeth.

In 1600 BC, the Chinese would refine the chew stick a little bit. They would use twigs from fragrant trees, which would help freshen breath in addition to cleaning the teeth.

The First Toothbrush: Tang Dynasty China (619-907 AD)

The toothbrush in a more recognizable form traces back to the Tang Dynasty in China. These early forms of the toothbrush had a handle made of bone or bamboo. To brush the teeth, bristles from Siberian hogs were used. While a step up from the chew stick, the toothbrush would continue to evolve over the next millennium.

The Toothbrush in Europe

The toothbrush would not arrive in the Western world until the 1700s or 1800s. Thanks to exploration and the age of discovery, European travelers eventually brought the toothbrush to their home countries. When making their own toothbrushes, Europeans tended to use horse hair rather than Siberian hog bristles.

The first English toothbrush dates back to 1780, with a cattle bone handle and bristles taken from domestic pigs. In 1844, a three-row bristle pattern was used on the toothbrush in order to improve the ability to clean the teeth.

The Birth of the Modern Toothbrush

The toothbrush as we know it would not show up until the 20th century. Surprising but true.

In 1938, the first modern toothbrush was manufactured. It used nylon for the bristles rather than animal hair. In the 1950s, softer nylon was used to make the bristles on toothbrushes in order to prevent harming the gums and tooth enamel.

Plugged In: The Electric Toothbrush

In the 1960s, the toothbrush would change yet a again. The first electric toothbrush was born in the radical and revolutionary decade. It was a great innovation, particularly for those who suffer from arthritis or have difficulty using a traditional toothbrush.

More Recent Toothbrush Innovations

While the toothbrush hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, there have been minor alterations made to this efficient design. Softer bristles are available, as are different bristle patterns to increase the cleaning surface and ability. The handle angles and head sizes of the toothbrush have changed over time as well, allowing people to clean those hard-to-reach parts of the mouth.

Learn More About Your Dental Care Needs

For more information about your options for advanced dental care, be sure to contact our cosmetic and restorative dentistry center today. We look forward to your visit and discussing these issues with you in much greater detail.

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