Parents have been telling their children to brush their teeth for at least 6,000 years. Archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of ancient tooth cleaning implements, including twigs, feathers, bones, and quills. In fact, tooth brushing tools have been found as early as 3500 BCE in the Babylonian and Egyptian cultures, when people used frayed ends of twigs to scrub off bacteria and food particles.
Several early cultures used chewing sticks with aromatic or antiseptic properties, such as neem or miswak. The sticks not only cleaned teeth, but also freshened breath.
In 1498 in China, an enterprising soul plucked stiff hairs from a pig’s neck and attached the bristles to a bone or bamboo handle. When this toothbrush was adopted by the Europeans, they opted for softer bristles—using horsehairs or feathers.
The toothbrush was modernized around 1780 by Englishman William Addis when he tied boar bristles into tufts and glued them into drilled holes of a bone handle. In fact, he’s responsible for the first mass-produced toothbrush. The company that Addis started more than 230 years ago, Wisdom Toothbrushes, still exists today.
In 1857, H.N. Wadsworth was the first American to be granted a toothbrush patent. However, mass production on toothbrushes in the United States didn’t begin until 1885, and animal bristles were still used as the brushing components. Fast forward to 1938 when DuPont created a new material called nylon. These synthetic fibers soon replaced natural bristles in toothbrushes.
These days, you have a variety of toothbrush options, including electric and disposable. If you’re not sure which type of toothbrush is best for your dental care needs, ask your dentist at your next checkup. And skip the twigs.