It seems wrong to write a blog about the history of toothpaste without its counterpart, the history of the toothbrush. To remedy this, we’ll quickly take you through several thousand years worth of makeshift toothbrushes and their creators then let you decide which version you might come up with if you were stuck on a deserted island but still valued your oral hygiene.
The Ancient Babylonians are first group mentioned in most histories of teeth brushing. This civilization lived in what is now present day Iraq, Kuwait, eastern Syria, and Southeastern Turkey and was responsible for a great deal of invention that contributes to today’s society, and the “chewing stick” is no exception. Historians estimate that this device was first used between the years 3500 and 3000 BC and was fairly straightforward – after all, this is ancient Mesopotamia we’re talking about. The stick was chewed on one end to create a frayed side for “brushing”, and the other end was sharpened into a point for picking the teeth. Toothpicks have some history, people.
The Chinese also provide evidence for creating their own version by 1600 BC. Like the Babylonians, their brushes were also made from sticks, but sticks particularly from “aromatic” trees to presumably help in the breath freshening department. But the Chinese would also invent a tool which looks more similar to our modern toothbrush, and these were made from bone or bamboo handles and pigs’ neck bristles. Simply delightful.
This Chinese design eventually made its way over to the west where pig neck bristles were swapped out in favor of horsehair – a much less effective material for removing food from the teeth. Western civilizations continued to make changes in their variety of teeth cleaning tools, introducing silver, copper, and goose feather toothpicks.
The basic structure of the toothbrush has changed very little since its initial conception, but we can all give a big round of applause for Du Pont Laboratories and their invention of nylon in 1937. This lead to the swift and VERY welcome change of using nylon bristles instead of using bones, hair, and other animal derivatives.
Cheers to these little guys: