Brushing Up On the History of the Toothbrush and Toothpaste
By Dr. Tim Simpson on May 13, 2020
Daily brushing using a quality toothbrush and toothpaste is an important oral hygiene habit that can prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental problems. Our dentist, Dr. Tim Simpson, encourages all of his patients to protect their smiles by brushing at least twice a day and flossing regularly.
Many of our patients would be surprised to learn that the two most common oral hygiene tools (toothbrush and toothpaste) have been around for thousands of years. If you have questions about which products are the most effective at removing plaque, Dr. Simpson and the team at our Abilene, TX, practice will be glad to recommend quality brands.
Ancient History of the Toothbrush
Every day, billions of men, women, and children around the world wake up and start their day by brushing their teeth. We may think that the toothbrush is something new. The earliest documented use of a toothbrush dates to 3500 to 3000 BC when cultures in Babylon and Egypt used twigs with frayed ends to scrub off plaque from the surface of teeth.
While cultures at the time probably did not understand the causes of tooth decay, they likely appreciated the beauty associated with having white teeth.
Early Bristled Toothbrushes
Today, a toothbrush head can contain thousands of thin bristles. The unique design allows the bristles to gently scrape away plaque before it can calcify into tartar. Credit for the first bristled toothbrush goes to 15th-century China when pig neck hairs were attached to one end of a bamboo stick. Europeans admired the innovation and incorporated its use back home. The European variant used horse hairs.
Modern Advances in Toothbrush Design
The first toothbrush of a modern design was developed by William Addis, an Englishman, around 1780. The slender handle was made from cow bone. One end of the carved handle held swine bristles. The design was refined into a three-row version in the middle of the 19th century.
Bristles were an important innovation, but animal hairs wore down quickly. The first synthetic material to replace bristles, nylon, was developed in 1935 by DuPont. The synthetic polymer remains very popular as a base material for toothbrush bristles.
The Evolution of Toothpaste
Evidence of early uses of toothpaste dates even further back than archeological evidence of the first toothbrush. Around 5000 BC, Egyptians used a paste to rub plaque off their teeth. Ancient Romans also used toothpaste to whiten their teeth and freshen their breath.
The base material for toothpaste varied widely. Some cultures valued the cleaning properties of toothpaste while others preferred the breath-freshening qualities that herbs and plant-based ingredients offered. Pumice, crushed bone, burnt eggshells, and herbs were common base ingredients used by cultures over the past several thousand years.
Mass-produced toothpaste as we know it today was developed by the Colgate company in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, fluoride (a mineral that hardens enamel) was added to improve the cavity-fighting ability of toothpaste.
Schedule Your Dental Cleaning Today
Now that you’ve “brushed up” on the history of the toothbrush, we hope you are motivated to visit our office for your dental cleaning or exam. A member of our dental team will be glad to tell you what our favorite toothbrush and toothpaste brands are.
To schedule your next visit, please contact our office online or call (325) 677-6553.
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“I have used Dr Simpson for the last 20 years. I cannot say enough about how friendly, awesome and amazing he AND his staff are. I highly recommend him and his office! Amazing care and people!” Terri C.