Most people take toothbrush for granted. It’s a necessary evil one has to use twice per day for two minutes to prevent gum diseases, tooth loss, and keep the teeth pearly white.
But toothbrush is much more important than most people realize; it has played a huge role throughout the human history and humanity wouldn’t be where it is today without it.
The importance of a toothbrush
Scientists discovered that the first »people« who started taking care of their teeth were Neanderthals over a million years ago. Life expectancy was around 25 years in those times and grandparents were a very rare breed.
Once Neanderthals found out that a basic oral care limits the chances of getting gum disease and allows them to keep their teeth for a longer time, they started using wooden sticks to remove food leftovers from their teeth after each meal. Their life expectancy got longer and they had more time to learn, invent new things and evolve.
But how did we get from a simple wooden stick to the latest toothbrushes with hundreds of nylon bristles and rubber grips? Here’s a simple visual infographic designed by the Amazing Consumer.
3500 B.C. – The era of a toothbrush
The first real form of a toothbrush was used by the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. It was nothing more than a chewing stick that was frayed on one end, but it got the job done, and Egyptians and Babylonians used it to brush their teeth after each meal.
Somewhere around 1600 B.C. Chinese found out that chewing sticks from aromatic trees are more fun to use because they smelled great and provided a sensational feeling of fresh breath after each use.
7th century – First toothbrush with bristles gets invented in China
Somewhere around 7th or 8th century, Chinese invented the first bristle toothbrush during the Dang Dynasty. It was likely made from hairs of the cold-climate hogs that lived in Northern China and Siberia. The handle of the toothbrush was made of animal bone or bamboo.
1780 – Toothbrush goes mainstream in Europe
Although toothbrushes with bristles were already used in China for centuries, Europeans still had some catching up to do.
The first mass production of toothbrushes started in England back in 1780. An entrepreneur William Addis was serving time in prison for causing a riot when he decided that brushing teeth with a chewing stick is outdated and there’s plenty of space for improvement.
It’s been said that he saved a piece of bone which he found in his prison meal, drilled a few small holes on one end, and glued bristles from a Siberian boar in them. It’s a nice story, but where the heck did he get a drilling machine and Siberian boar hair in prison?
Once he got out from prison, he opened a manufacturing business and started selling toothbrushes of various designs. His toothbrushes quickly spread through England and Addis got very rich very quickly in the process. His company stayed in family ownership until 1996 and is now known as Wisdom Toothbrushes. Even over 2 centuries after his death, the company still sells about 70 million toothbrushes in England per year.
1938 – The era of nylon bristles begins
DuPoint was the first manufacturers that decided to stop using animal hair and make bristles from nylon in 1938. It’s quite funny to believe people were still animal hair for toothbrush bristles 80 years ago, but maybe we still would if it wasn’t for DuPont.
Nylon bristles became mainstream very quickly because they were more hygienic than animal hair.
1969 – The era of electric toothbrushes begins
The first ever electric toothbrush was designed by a doctor named Phillipe Woog in Switzerland in 1969. It was primarily designed for people with orthodontics and people with limited motor skills who weren’t able to use a traditional toothbrush effectively.
The idea of an electric toothbrush was that it would do all the brushing motions by itself and all the patient has to do is to move it around the mouth area slowly.
Woog’s toothbrush wasn’t very popular among average consumers because it was loud, clumsy, and had to be connected to electricity outlet through a cable. Electric toothbrushes started getting much more traction among consumers in 1962 when an American manufacturer General Electrics designed first electric toothbrush with rechargeable battery.
Today there are thousands of different toothbrush manufacturers fighting for the spot on the top of the market. Modern toothbrushes usually come with a sturdy plastic handle, rubber finish for better grip, and up to 300 bristles made of nylon.
Electric toothbrushes come with advanced rechargeable batteries that are able to provide more than 3 weeks of brushing time when fully charged. The debates wether electric toothbrusher are better than traditional ones continue to this day.