Evolution of the toothbrush


A toothbrush is such a common household staple that we completely take it for granted. Along with many bathroom accessories such as the hairbrush, the face sponge and the razor, these items exist to help make our lives and routines easier and better. But has anyone stopped to wonder who invented the humble toothbrush?

Early tooth and gum care

The first signs of man using an implement to clean teeth and gums date back thousands of years to 3500 BC, where historians have found evidence that people were chewing tatty-ended twigs to help keep their mouths clean. They used the frayed fibres within the twigs to help dislodge food from between teeth and prevent gum disease. Although this may sound far removed from our perceptions of a good teeth cleaning regime now, this is still practiced in some areas of the word today. In some areas of Africa, a tooth twig called a “datun” is used and can be surprisingly effective.

Bristol dentist evolution of toothbrushIn the fifteenth century, the Chinese first invented a bristled toothbrush. These resembled the modern toothbrushes we use today but were made from materials available then. The handle was something rigid, usually bone or bamboo, and the bristles were made from hair taken from a hog’s neck. These hairs were rough and thick, so essentially did the same job of removing food and bacteria from teeth and gums as the man-made toothbrushes we use today. Not the most appealing thing to put in your mouth though.

The modern toothbrush

Incredibly, toothbrushes with bristles made from animal hair survived all the way into the twentieth century, and it wasn’t until 1938 when they were replaced with nylon bristles. The French company DuPont de Nemours first thought to use nylon as a substitute for animal hairs and this approach has been used ever since. Nylon, although commonplace now, had only just been invented at this time, having been launched in 1935/36.

Interestingly, electric toothbrushes are a lot older than many people realise. They were pioneered in 1939 in Switzerland but were not readily available on the mass market until the 1960s. Nowadays people can choose whether they favour the manual or electric toothbrush and there are thousands of options available.

Here at CK Dental we have evaluated the benefits of brushing with electric versus manual toothbrushes (click here to read our post on this) and believe that both have merit. Providing you are using either type of brush correctly and spending an appropriate length of time brushing your teeth each day (we would recommend twice a day for at least two minutes per session) then this should help maintain healthy teeth and gums.