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Walk into any dentist’s office or drug store today and you can find a vast array of toothbrushes–manual or electric, straight, angled or curved–with pristine nylon bristles to keep teeth sparkling and gums healthy. But toothbrushes, or their simple prototypes, have been a part of human dental care for thousands of years.

Brush Like An Egyptian. . .Egyptian toothbrush

Some of the earliest toothbrushing tools date back to 3,500 B.C.E. and were discovered in Egyptian tombs. Toothpicks and flayed aromatic “chewing sticks” were found next to their ancient, mummified owners. Egyptians, common and royal, delighted in cosmetics that made them beautiful, and, compared to many other ancient people, dedicated time each day to bathing and keeping their teeth clean.

A Change From The East. . .

The Chinese are believed to have invented the first recognizable (at least to modern eyes) toothbrush. In the 15th century, natural boar bristles were attached to bone or bamboo handles, some of them beautifully carved, and were used with dental pastes extracted from medicinal herbs or fragrant powders made from honey and pollen.

Over The River And Through The Western Woods. . . old toothbrushes

Through popular trade routes, the toothbrush was brought into Western Europe and Britain. But the stiff, bracing boar bristles were soon replaced with softer horsehair or even feathers. The first toothbrush of a more modern design was made by William Addis in England around 1780. The handle was carved from cow bone and the brush was made of short, stiff pig bristles. It wasn’t until 1844, though, that the first three-row, serrated bristle brush was designed and patented, allowing for mass manufacturing and making it a more efficient teeth cleaning tool than its predecessors.

Good Ole Yankee Ingenuity. . .

Natural bristles were the only source of bristles until Du Pont invented the nylon bristle in 1938, but the artificial bristle was stiff and hard on tooth enamel. By the 1950’s softer nylon was being developed for toothbrushes and dentists hardily endorsed these for their patients. Although conceived of in Switzerland, the first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was sold in the U.S. in 1960. Originally developed for people with limited mobility, dentists quickly recognized the benefits of the automatic, rotating bristle heads for all their patients. It’s now standard for many households to have multiple electric toothbrushes, one for each member of the family.

The basic function of the “toothbrush” has not changed since the ancient Egyptians. But thanks to advancements in research and technology the materials used in the design have greatly improved dental hygiene and health. Over its long history, this one simple tool has aided in insuring a bright and welcoming smile.