National Brush Day Celebrates the Toothbrush. But Just How Did the Most Famous Dental Device Come to Be?
With Halloween behind us and more holidays on the way, along with a bevy of sweets and treats, it’s no coincidence that National Brush Day is observed on November 1 as a way to reinforce the importance of children’s oral health while promoting the good tooth-brushing habits recommended by dental experts. We’ve already discussed some helpful tips for keeping teeth healthy during holidays packed with confections, but have you ever wondered about the device that does all the heavy lifting? Yes, the toothbrush itself has an interesting and storied history. In honor of National Brush Day, let’s explore the origins of this humble yet essential oral hygiene tool.
The Ancient Origins of the Modern Toothbrush
“As humans are primates and primates are gregarious and visually oriented, facial appearance, including the teeth, has likely influenced social self-consciousness since time immemorial,” according to University of the Pacific’s virtual dental museum. “In response, throughout the ages people have tried various devices for maintaining pleasant smiles and, consequently, healthy mouths.”
“Toothpicks, in the form of wood, bone, reeds, quills, thorns, ivory, metal or plastic, have been used for over 5,000 years and possibly since prehistoric times,” the university explained. “Using a finger, with or without a covering, to rub the teeth was popular in ancient Greece, and in 17th- to mid 19th century Europe, a piece of linen or a sponge was preferred.”
It wasn’t until 1498 when the incarnation of the modern bristle toothbrush appeared in China. The stiff, coarse hairs from the back of a boar’s neck were attached to handles made of bone or bamboo.
During the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, toothbrushes evolved into rare luxury items. With ornate handles designed from silver, gilt, and gold, these devices belonged primarily to wealthy households.
The toothbrush made its appearance in the United States just three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, with American dentists advocating for brushing. But because toothbrushes were mostly imported from Europe, their use remained scarce in the States. Finally, in 1857, the first U.S. patent for a toothbrush was filed.
Toothbrush development took its most significant step forward in 1938 when DuPont announced “Dr. West’s Miracle Tuft brush” made with nylon filaments instead of natural bristles. Synthetic handles also gained adoption during World War II, marking the end of bone handles, which faded from production. As refinements occurred over the intervening years, the 1960s saw the launch of the first electric toothbrush.
Other Interesting Facts
From the Library of Congress, the official national research library of the United States, here are some other intriguing tidbits to round out the history of the toothbrush.
- The first mass-produced toothbrush was made by William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, around 1780.
- The first American to patent a toothbrush was H. N. Wadsworth, (patent number 18,653,) on Nov. 7, 1857.
- Mass production of toothbrushes began in America around 1885.
- One of the first electric toothbrushes to hit the American market was in 1960. It was marketed by the Squibb company under the name Broxodent.
The toothbrush continues to innovate alongside research and development efforts. From crude “chew sticks” to pieces of art to the advanced practical designs of today, toothbrushes are ingrained as an instrumental aspect of human history.
Ongoing research and rigorous quality control tests continue to propel the effectiveness of toothbrushes. So what’s the best option today? For the vast majority of people, a soft-bristled toothbrush will be the most comfortable and safest choice. Depending on how vigorously you brush your teeth and the strength of your teeth, medium- and hard-bristled brushes could actually damage the gums, root surface, and protective tooth enamel. For even more tooth protection when you brush, be sure the bristles on the toothbrush you select have rounded tips.
For more tips on brushing and oral hygiene, schedule a visit with the Blende Dental Group today for a checkup and consultation.