After becoming a fundamental part of our lives for decades, it’s difficult to imagine the world without toothbrushes. We’re lucky to live in a time of advanced scientific knowledge surrounding teeth and the rise of toothbrushes has been a key part of that development. Even though these changes have only begun in the last few decades, toothbrushes have actually been around for more than 4,000 years. While these weren’t the colourful brushes we have today, the story of their development is more interesting than you’d think…
We’re all very lucky to have a special dental routine with toothbrushes, fluoride toothpaste and floss, but at the very beginning things weren’t so sophisticated. Thousands of years ago, items lying on the floor, such as twigs, feathers and bones, were the main instruments for giving your teeth a good brush. In those times, these toothbrushes were seen as useful for getting bits of food out of your teeth and keeping up a kind of general maintenance. Our choice would have been sticks – but that’s just us.
To get slightly more specific, historians can date these processes all the way back in time to the Sumer civilisation of ancient Mesopotamia in 3600 BC. These people were some of the very first farmers and learnt how to cultivate the land to grow food. They laid the foundations for civilisation to grow and flourish in more ways than one. It doesn’t stop there though, running through time we can find multiple examples of chew sticks as a form of early dental maintenance. The ancient tombs of Egypt have thrown up multiple clues about early toothbrushes, as well being written down thousands of years ago in records from China. Historians have also found evidence from all the way back in 230BC, after uncovering burials from the Qin Dynasty Tribe. The craziest thing about all this is that these ancient practices are still occuring today. Rural areas in Africa and even modern America contain people using chew sticks as a method of dental care. Suffice to say, we wouldn’t recommend it.
So when did the more common toothbrush we’re used to using today pop into existence? Historians can track toothbrushes back to the first century in the Tang Dynasty of China. These extremely clever group of people were the very first to create a primitive bristle-style toothbrush that is still being used today. Unlike the plastic used in modern brushes, this Dynasty used the bristles of pigs and attached them to a handle most likely made out of bone or bamboo. Even more remarkable is that they specifically utilised the hair of northern higs in order to have a more firm brush. It’s pretty unlikely that Colgate would come out with a toothbrush based on those designs in modern times, but the genius is undeniable. These inventions transformed dental maintenance and, to put it bluntly, they seemed to care more about their teeth than many modern people!
Unfortunately, Europe wasn’t so lucky. It took around 800 years for Europeans to embrace the Eastern methods of oral hygiene, but be grateful they did! The Silk Road ensured that both trade and technology was abundant. The road was vital for connecting the two continents and the first toothbrushes made their way along that road sometime during the 16th century. Even with this remarkable invention, many Europeans poured scorn on the idea of toothbrushes and the whole practice was seen as a complete novelty. To get specific, the very first mention of toothbrushes came about in 1690 from an antiques collector named Anthony Wood.
The late 18th century was when Britain really started to embrace those brilliant Eastern practices (it only took them 800 years). A man you may be familiar with, WIlliam Addis, was the first to found a toothbrushing business to great success. Addis was a former prisoner and based his brush design on the guards sweeping the prison floor with their brooms. In those days, many people in Britain were using soot and crushed shells in cloth. Logically, Addis thought, a brush system would be a much more effective way of cleaning your teeth.
After this observation, Addis saved a small bone from his dinner and took it back to his cell. He drilled small holes in it and fastened bristles from the guards onto the brush with glue. And so – the concept of the modern toothbrush was born. Addis’ business skyrocketed and he found unbridled success with his ideas. The Addis brand grew into one of the most famous in the world and changed their name to Wisdom (which still makes millions of toothbrushes each year in Britain).
Of course, toothbrushes have developed into a fundamental part of our daily lives and the industry has exploded into one of the most successful throughout the world. Even if you’re brushing twice a day, flossing and using mouthwash, that still doesn’t mean your teeth are fine and dandy. Regular visits to the dentist have also become a crucial part of good oral hygiene. Finding the right one can be difficult, but we would recommend searching for one you feel comfortable with. Building a rapport with your dentist is essential if you’re going to keep going back. If you live in the London area, we’d really recommend trying out London City Smiles. They’re experts in relieving dental anxiety and prioritise comfortable, slow dentistry and patient experience.
Ultimately, the genius of humanity and the shrewd entrepuernship of certain people throughout history have drastically improved the quality of everybody’s teeth. Who knows, if WIlliam Addis hadn’t seen that guard sweeping the floor at that time, modern dentistry might have looked very very different. Starting from humble beginnings with chew sticks and twigs, the way we think about our teeth has advanced drastically. Always make sure you’re brushing your teeth at least twice a day and maintain those high dental standards. If you’re unsure about your routine or what some advice on which toothbrushes are best, pop into your dentists for some expert advice.