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A Brief History of the Toothbrush

Chew Stick

Chew sticks, thought to be the first toothbrush, used by the Egyptians, these have been found in Egyptian tombs.

Chew sticks, thought to be the first toothbrush, used by the Egyptians, these have been found in Egyptian tombs.


Most people would think that the toothbrush is a modern invention, along with oral hygiene, created in the 20th century. But mankind has been trying to clean their teeth ever since we have been eating; back then it was a matter of rubbing our fingers over our teeth.

We as humans having an imagination found everyday objects to assist with the cleaning, some of these being, bird's claws, feathers and even shells.


A simple twig that was chewed at one end to assist in cleaning your teeth, 3000 BC

A simple twig that was chewed at one end to assist in cleaning your teeth, 3000 BC

Ancient Egyptians

Archaeologists when examining artefacts in Egyptian tombs, of chew sticks with frayed ends. These are believed to be the earliest toothbrushes, dating to 3000 BC. The Egyptian population back then had major problems with their teeth, due to their diet, mainly the bread they ate. The bread contained sand and grit, which ground their teeth.

Records have been found dating to the ancient Egyptians, that document an early form of toothpaste. The toothpaste was in a powder form, which was made from ox hooves, ashes, burnt shells and pumice. There is other documentation from Roman occupation, written on papyrus, which provided the exact amounts of the ingredients in the toothpaste. The toothpaste was also a powder, which required precise amounts of rock salt, mint, died iris flower and grains of powder, which was ground into a powder to be applied to your teeth.


The type of material that the Roman toothpaste was documented on.

The type of material that the Roman toothpaste was documented on.

Next Evolution of the Toothbrush.

The next evolution of the toothbrush design occurred in China in 1498, where records talk about toothbrushes, with the handle being made from cattle bone and the bristles were obtained from "Siberian pig hair", the hair was coarse.

There is some debate among scholars that archaeologists while excavating "Liao-dynasty" tomb in Liaoning Province, may have discovered toothbrushes dating to 959 AD, but no records can be found.

Siberian pig

A Siberian pig, that the hair for the toothbrushes came from.

A Siberian pig, that the hair for the toothbrushes came from.

17th Century England

By the 17th century, traders had brought the toothbrush to Europe. The Europeans had until then, been cleaning their with rags or sponges dipped in sulfric oil or a salt solution, which was often attached to a piece of wood to make the cleaning easier.

William Addis in 1780 created the fore runner of today's toothbrush, he was a rogue and entrepreneur. While in prison (Newgate Prison) for causing a riot, it is believed he came up with the idea of the toothbrush, while watching a person using a broom to sweep the floor, this was his "eureka moment".

Folklore has us believe that William produced his first toothbrush while still in prison. This is debatable, because he required a drill, to make the holes in the end of a bone, to thread the bristles through, and you would think this would not be allowed by the prison officials.

On leaving prison, William started commercially producing toothbrushes, from premises in the East London. In 1878, when his son was born, he moved the business to larger premises, in doing this he had created a cottage industry which employed approximately 60 people, who were mainly employed to make the handles. William's process to manufacture the toothbrush required 53 stages; the handle was crafted from ox or bullock thigh bones without the end. The thigh bones were boiled, cleaned and then cut length wise into strips. He sourced his bristles from many countries, like Poland, Bulgaria, Russia and France.

William was making four different sizes of toothbrushes, these being the "gents, ladies, child's and tom thumb". He drilled six small holes in one end of the handle and threaded the bristles through the holes, the bristles were held in position either by glue or wire. William's son took over the company, on the death of his father. In 1845 the company was again moved into larger premises.

In 1935, with the invention of nylon, which became popular to use as bristles for the toothbrush. The Addis family company, was now trading as the "Wisdom Company", who made a deal with ICI (UK licensees of Du Pont), to make an entirely synthetic toothbrush. A member of the Addis family was still with the Wisdom company until 1996; the Wisdom Company is still manufacturing toothbrushes.

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H.N. Wadsworth

The next advancement in the history of the toothbrush was in 1857, when.Wadsworth patented the toothbrush (patent number: 18653), the toothbrush was mass produced, and for the first time placed in boxes, and they were sold under the name of "Florence Manufacturing Company".

With the out brake of WW1, and rationing of meat, the manufacturers of toothbrushes had look for something else to make them from. In 1900's, celluloid replaced bone as the main part of the toothbrush.

Wadsworth who patented the toothbrush in 1857.

Wadsworth who patented the toothbrush in 1857.

Du Pont invented nylon

In 1935, the head of "organic chemistry" at Du Pont Company in Delaware, US; Mr Crothers after many failed experiments, finally succeeded in manufacturing nylon; which is a molten polymer. By 1938 all bristles in toothbrushes were nylon, the end of hair for bristles, after 158 years.

Wallace Crothers (Du Pont)

Wallace Crothers (Du Pont)

The last evolution of the toothbrush

In 1954 the toothbrush reached its final evolution; with the invention of the electric toothbrush in Switzerland.

Oral hygiene did not become an important part of our hygiene until after WW2, when the American soldiers brought the practice back to America. Oral hygiene was an important part of the American soldiers health. The reason for this was to prevent mouth infections, pain from tooth decay, even death. So good oral hygiene would keep the men at the front to help with the fighting.

World War 2

Oral hygiene helped to fight Germany in WW2

Oral hygiene helped to fight Germany in WW2


In a recent survey which asked British and American citizens, what was the one invention they could not live without. The answer would surprise, you might think they said there mobile phone, the car; but the majority of citizens stated, they could not live without their toothbrush.



© 2017 Germainpuck


Michael Duncan from Germany on December 26, 2017:

It does leave a bitter taste during the first attempts, so it takes a bit of getting used to :) But those who have been using the procedure are accustomed to it.

Germainpuck (author) from Adelaide on December 26, 2017:

Thank you for that information.

What did it feel like using a chew stick

Michael Duncan from Germany on December 15, 2017:

In parts of Africa, especially the interior, people still use the same method of turning twigs of certain trees into toothbrushes by chewing and have been doing so for years. Still works today. I myself tried this a few times when I was living there. Informative article. Thanks for sharing :)

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