When were toothbrushes invented? This is a question where the answer can vary a little bit based on what you are actually asking. According to the Library of Congress, the first modern toothbrush was invented in 1938 when Dupont released a toothbrush with nylon fibers. If you want to know when humans started using cleaning tools to take care of their teeth, the answer is going to take you back in time quite a bit further.
As early as 3000 BC, people used twigs specifically to care for their teeth. These green twigs, or chew sticks, were chewed on until they had frayed fibrous ends. These ends were then used to clean the teeth. This widespread practice has been found in the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Indians. Interestingly enough, some companies still sell chew sticks for those interested in trying out this ancient practice.
The Chinese are credited with inventing the first bristle toothbrush in 1498. The bristles were made of hog hair from the back of the neck, and the handles were made from ivory or bamboo. Europeans embraced the toothbrush some time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, led by the French (in fact, you can see Napoleon’s toothbrush in a museum). In England, William Addis made the first mass produced toothbrush in the 1780’s.
In America, the first toothbrush patent was filed in November of 1857 by HN Wadsworth. Mass production of toothbrushes started a few decades later, around 1885. These brushes were still of the pig hair and wooden handle variety.
A Brave New World
Which brings us to 1938. DuPont had created and manufactured the first synthetic fiber–nylon. They used it to manufacture the first plastic and nylon modern toothbrush. The brushes had several advantages over the older animal hair variety, particularly that the bristles lasted longer and were more hygienic.
Oral hygiene habits in the US received a major boost from an unlikely source–the World War. Soldiers returning from the wars had been trained by the Armed Forces in proper oral hygiene to keep them in fighting shape. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can watch a training video shown to the soldiers in WWII.
The first mass produced electric toothbrush followed in the 1960’s. Interestingly enough, there are still new patents filed for toothbrushes regularly when people get an idea about how to improve tooth cleaning. Our understanding of how to best care for our teeth grows, but we’ve long known how vital it is to have a healthy mouth. So, grab your trusty brush, some cutting edge tooth gel, and fight the good fight!