Aug 13, 2009

Origin of the Toothbrush


The first toothbrush used by ancients was the “chew stick” a pencil size twig with one end frayed to a soft fibrous like brush. Chew sticks were initially rubbed against the teeth with no toothpaste, and have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 3000 BC and back to 3500 BC, where Babylonians also used “chewing sticks”. Additionally, there is mention of primitive toothpicks being chewed to clean the teeth and mouth in ancient Rome and Greece. Toothpicks matured into the chew stick which was about the size of a modern pencil. One end was chewed to soften it into a brush-like fiber, while the opposite end was pointed and used to pick food and debris from between the teeth. The twigs were chosen from aromatic trees that had the ability to clean and freshen the mouth.

Chew sticks are still used in some parts of the world. Many African tribes fray twigs from special trees. The American Dental Assoc discovered that frayed sticks often serve as tooth brushes for people living in remote areas of the United States, and can be every bit as effective as a modern toothbrush. They reported on one elderly man living in Louisiana who had used frayed elm sticks all his life and had plaque free teeth and healthy gums. Now that is truly amazing in the modern era.

The first bristle toothbrush, similar to those used today, had its origin in China around 1498. The bristles were taken from the backs of hog necks living in the cold climates of Siberia and China (cold weather causes them to grow bristles) and fastened them to handles made of bamboo or bone. Traders to the Orient introduced this brush to the Europeans, who found the hog bristles too firm and uncomfortable. At that time those Europeans who did brush their teeth, which wasn’t a common thing, preferred horsehair toothbrushes.

The father of modern dentistry is Dr Pierre Fauchard, who in his 1793 dental textbook was critical of the ineffectiveness of horsehair bristles and of the large proportion of Europe that didn’t use any kind of tooth cleaning device at all. Dr Fauchard recommended daily rubbing of the teeth with a piece of natural sponge. Other animal hair used in toothbrushes included badger hair, but many preferred to pick their teeth clean with a stiff quill or feather, while some had a brass toothpick. The metal toothpicks were less of a human health hazard than the natural hairbrushes. Once Louis Pasteur discussed his theory on germs, the dental profession realized that all animal hair retains moisture, which promotes fungal and bacterial growth. But the ultimate solution didn’t arrive until 1938, when nylon bristle brushes were invented in the USA. Dupont de Nemours placed “Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrush”, on sale as the first nylon February 24, 1938. Today we have all types of toothbrushes for every occasion: electric, travel, baby, and pet toothbrushes.

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