Who Invented The Toothbrush?

Did you know that the “modern” toothbrush was invented by William Addis? A petty criminal who was incarcerated in Newgate Prison, London in 1770. He made holes in one end of a bone saved from a meal and threaded this with animal hair. He used this to clean his teeth. When he was released 10 years later, he marketed his device to the wealthy and started the Wisdom Toothbrush Company.

Prior to his invention, people used twigs and ash or an old rag and soot or salt to clean their teeth. Even earlier than this people used feathers and porcupine quills. Twig brushes for oral hygiene have been found in records dating back to 3500 BC, in Babylonia (Mesopotamia). Ancient Egyptian (3000 BC) and Chinese records (1600 BC) also show this type of brushing device.

Toothbrushes made from bone or bamboo with hog bristles were recorded in the Tang Dynasty China (619 – 907). Toothbrushes were imported into Europe from China until the mid 20th century. Horse and badger hair bristles were softer and hence were preferred by the aristocracy.

Mass production of toothbrushes began in England, France, Germany and Japan in the mid 1800’s. Production didn’t commence in the United States until 1885. In 1938, animal bristles were replaced with synthetic nylon bristles and celluloid handles became common. Toothbrush handles are now usually manufactured from plastic however bamboo is making a resurgence as a more recyclable and environmentally friendly option. The first electric toothbrushes were made in Switzerland in 1954.

As you can see, toothbrushes have a long and interesting history. The use of toothbrushes and regular oral hygiene didn’t really take off until after WWII, sparked by the discipline and health routines of the US soldiers.

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