The humble toothbrush is a staple in every home and dentist office. Their price ranges from free to several hundred dollars. You’ve seen the commercials for advanced toothbrushes, with their 30,000 bristles and advanced tongue scrubbers, but the original toothbrush was much simpler. Although knowing the history of the toothbrush won’t really give you any extra knowledge as far as actually using it, it’s pretty cool to look at your toothbrush and imagine ancient Babylonians brushing their teeth with a stick.
In 3000 BCE the Ancient Babylonians used to have something that translates to “Chew Stick.” It was a frayed twig that the ancient Mesopotamians would chew on and/or brush their teeth with. Dental technology has come a long way since then, but it wasn’t so long ago that the toothbrush that we know and love was very different.
In 1498 (Years after Columbus landed in America) the bristle toothbrush was made in China out of bone or bamboo, and the bristles were made of course hog fur. Imagine brushing your teeth with hair!
Thankfully, someone by the name of N.H. Wadsworth invented the nylon toothbrush in 1857, but it was not very popular. In fact, it wasn’t until 1885 that toothbrushes were mass-produced in the United States.
Interestingly, even though the toothbrush was being mass-produced, it wasn’t until WWII that the United States began regularly brushing their teeth. Can you guess why?
The soldiers in WWII were held to a high hygiene standard, which along with being clean-shaven and wearing clean clothes, were required to keep their teeth clean. The people back home took the disciplined hygiene of the soldiers and incorporated it into their own lives. The nylon toothbrush became a staple soon thereafter.
The next advancement was the invention of the electric toothbrush in 1960, which has been succeeded by some other methods like sonic technology.
Who knows what the next evolution will be? It wasn’t until WWII that brushing your teeth became commonplace. Maybe one day we’ll make flossing commonplace too.
The next time you pick up your toothbrush, imagine a time when that toothbrush was a frayed stick or a bone with hog hair. What a cheery thought.