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History of the Humble Toothbrush

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.


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What have the banyan tree, Siberian boar hair, Badger bristle, Porcupine Quill, soot, baking soda, horsetail have all got in common?

They’ve all been involved in mankinds attempt to clean their teeth. At various stages throughout time people have tried different methods for cleaning their teeth and maintaining oral hygiene.

The earliest recorded toothbrush was made in 300bc and was a chewstick a twig with a frayed end. As en effective implement still in use in many parts of the world people still usethis method to clean their teeth. A twig is chewed until its end is frayed and this frayed end then used to brush the teeth.

My Neem is my Toothbrush!

My Neem is my Toothbrush!

Sewak Twigs

Sewak Twigs

Baking Soda

Baking Soda

The History of the Toothbrush

In China, Monks used to clean their teeth using an ox bone handle tethered with horsetail bristles. It has also been recorded by travelers to China around 1498 that the hogs hair was used with a bone or bamboo handle to brush teeth.

In India, generations have used ( and still use) the neem twig that has antiseptic and medicinal properties as a chewable toothbrush that helps to keep the teeth white and eradicates bad microbes. The neem twig and Banyan twig are considered as oral hygiene appliances in Ayurvedic Medicine.

In the Arabic World the same principle has been used with Arak or Sewak twigs. They are still available as toothbrushes.

In order to clean the teeth people have used rags coated with soot or salt ( yech!) and baking soda ( Sodium Bicarbonate ) has also been used to make teeth whiter. Baking soda is still used in certain toothpastes like Arm & Hammer.









Hair today, Gone Tomorrow!

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The credit for inventing the earliest version of the modern toothbrush for commercial purposes goes to Englishman William Addis of Clerkenwald, England in 1780. The idea came to him when he was in jail for rioting! He fashioned a small animal bone bored some holes and inserted bristles and used it to brush his teeth after getting tired of soot and salt. Not unlike the Chinese Monks.

On his release from jail, he mass produced this invention and died a very wealthy man.

By the mid 19th century toothbrush was sold across England, France and Germany and it was mainly made of bone or wooden handles fixed with hog hair ( cheap) or badger hair ( expensive) versions!

In the USA although it was patented first in 1857 by H.N. Wadsworth mass production only began in 1885 using Siberian boar bristle. Poor Siberian Boars!

Addis  'Ad an Idea

Addis 'Ad an Idea

Mocking Hog brushes in an old ad

Mocking Hog brushes in an old ad

We Want Nylon!

People were fed up animal hair as it fell out, got caught between teeth and generally smelt awful after a few weeks of use as it retained the bacteria.

DuPont de Nemours in 1938 patented the first plastic toothbrush using Nylon bristles called Prolon. They went on sale and immediate replaced the smelly older versions. It was called 'Doctor West's Miracle Toothbrush'

No worldwide the toothbrush inhabits billions of households in various shape of form. One of the greatest modern inventions for mass production. The newer electric versions called Broxodent were first invented in Switzerland in 1954 by Squibb. This company is now Bristol-Myers -Squibb.

Napolean Bonaparte's Gold toothbrush

Napolean Bonaparte's Gold toothbrush

Morning Rob!

Rip, Slip, Brush Ahh!

Fun Facts!

  • There have been other versions that failed in between like this one with attached toothpaste not unlike the electric razor with face cream!

  • While the rest of the world spends a small fortune on modern toothbrushes, the humble twig is still being used as a viable alternative.

  • It has been recommended by dentists that a toothbrush be kept at least 6 feet (two meters) away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush!

  • Toothpaste has been in use in India and China as far back as 500BC

  • The Roman's liked a bit of grit in their toothpaste and used Oyster shells and crushed bark!

  • A lot of people in the world use their finger to brush their teeth. Ancient Egyptians did the same using a powder made of pumice, bunt eggshells, and ground oxen hooves!

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Thank you Hubmob Weekly!

Thanks you for your visit and hope you enjoyed the history of the toothbrush!

Hope you enjoy the histories of the playing cards, Kites and Soap.... >

Thanks to hubmob weekly for the inspiration.

Please leave your comments below and share with your friends and family on Facebook or Twitter. Much appreciated!


Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2011


umbragetaker on February 15, 2012:

Is there a way to post or share a picture of a toothbrush that I believe dates to the 1820's, found during a restoration of an old house? Bone, Marked Extra Fine France, bristles mostly gone.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 21, 2011:

@Denise.. thanks for dropping by .. we used to do that too.. apparently the flush showers 'particles' up to 6 feet high!

@Fossillady... it's nice to know that when you brush now you'll remember all those details ;-)

@scall.. thanks for your visit & comments. much appreciated.

scall from Ottawa, Canada on February 21, 2011:

Very good read Docmo, I really enjoyed it and found it flowed nicely with the photos and videos. Voted up!

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 21, 2011:

Never given it much thought till just now. Very interesting, I like learning this kind of stuff! thanks doc ps, first paragraph drew me in, nice work!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on February 21, 2011:

Wonderful research and write up as always, Docmo. I found the tidbit about what dentists recommend re: toothbrushes picking up particles from the toilet interesting. When we grew up, and as is the design of many older homes, the toothbrush holder was connected to the bathroom wall. We kept our bruses hanging there above the sink and next to each others brushes. LOL

Now, I don't even keep it in the bathroom.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 20, 2011:

Hey Golfgal- great minds must think alike- I did search the hubs before I wrote this to make sure I am not duplicating.. you must have added it after.. why have one when we can have two... Brilliant, thanks!

Golfgal from McKinney, Texas on February 20, 2011:

I also wrote a hub on the toothbrush...thanks for the additional info. I cannot phathom using boar hair in my mouth. The smell must have been horrid. Give me the twig anyday.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 20, 2011:

@drbj, Perhaps I'll get an honorary fellowship at the toothbrush academy for spreading the word about their history. Perhaps.

@Jane- thanks for your visit & comments- it was great to be part of the hubmob weekly with such a great topic.

@Pamela99 -thank you very much .. I worked hard on selecting the pictures more than writing the piece!

@chspublish, thanks. Actually I've used one of 'em twig toothbrushes during a trip to India. I would've liked to say it was good. It was like chewing a tree. I think I prefer my Colgate!

chspublish from Ireland on February 20, 2011:

Love those twig toothbrushes. Nice hub.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 20, 2011:

Very good job Docmo of explaining all the different types of toothbrushes their history and I also like the great pictures.

Jane Bovary from The Fatal Shore on February 19, 2011:

Great job Docmo. Well written and I love thie pictures too. Those twig toothbrushes are intriguing.

I think the hubmob topic was a great one this week...all sorts of interesting things have surfaced.


drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 19, 2011:

Every toothbrush thanks you, Docmo, for telling the populace of their interesting history. We readers thank you, too. Very comprehensive.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 19, 2011:

Thanks gypsumgirl. It's funny that it almost looks like your avatar pic is getting the teeth cleaned. Hippos are so languid and louche, they make me laugh.

gypsumgirl from Vail Valley, Colorado on February 19, 2011:

Thanks for an interesting hub! I learned something new today about the tool we use daily! Great choice of pics as well...enhanced the hub and brought a smile to my face, particularly the first picture of the hippo. Love hippos as you can see from my profile picture. I also enjoyed the "fun facts."

Thanks for the enlightenment. I'm really enjoying this week's HubMob topic!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 19, 2011:

@Just ask Susan - I also am fascinated by the histories of the humdrum everyday objects- Interesting stories reading the hubmob weekly topics this time! thanks.

@Ashantina - yes ta. The Arm&Hammer toothpaste and several others use baking soda. There are many people in India who still sue the twigs/ chewsticks.

Ashantina on February 19, 2011:

Baking soda is still widely used today to whiten teeth!

Fab hub Docmo :)

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on February 19, 2011:

Docmo now this is something I have never considered the history of the toothbrush. Great hub! So glad that modern day toothbrushes are no longer made from animal hairs :)

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 19, 2011:

@Willstar, thanks for that.

@Amy, see Radius toothbrush arrived as if my magic in this hub must be telepathy!

@StefanieMoo, (love your Avatar), thanks!

StefanieMoo from Washington on February 19, 2011:

I was just learning about Nylon the other day- Awesome hub!

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on February 19, 2011:

As I love all animals, that Hippo really tickled me and it looks like he enjoys having his ivories tickled, too! Coincidentally, I received the Isabella Spring 2011 catalog in the mail the other day and saw for the first time, the Radius Toothbrush, which the proprietor highly recommends and then for the second time, today, here it is! Another fact in your piece that I related to is the invention of the nylon bristle toothbrush. I buy NylaBones and NutriDent for my resident canine touted as an easy, edible way for cleaning pet's teeth.

Many of the power toothbrushes on the market today also encourage a capped, sterilizing container to facilitate the assurance that they remain uncontaminated in their place in the bathroom.

Great, informative and interesting history piece on an important item in everyone's home.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on February 19, 2011:

Excellent Hub!

cheapsk8chick on February 19, 2011:

What an amazing hub! I love the first picture, and brushing ones teeth with soot? Yuck! I will be moving my toothbrush even further from the toilet now as well! Thanks for the great hub! Voted & rated WAY up!

rmcrayne from San Antonio Texas on February 19, 2011:

You have satisfied all the requirements for a HubMob hub. Welcome to HubMob.

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on February 19, 2011:

I've never given much thought to the humble toothbrush. Thanks for the education. Lynda

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on February 19, 2011:

Baking soda is still used for brushing teeth and Arm and Hammer company sells a baking soda based toothpaste. Interesting history.

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