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The History of the Toothbrush: A Journey From Nature Into Scientific Awareness

How often do you give consideration to the everyday items in your home? If you are like the majority of the population, then you will only bear them in mind when they need replacing, or incur damage and have to be disposed of. The fact remains, however, that these items have a history, both individually and in terms of wider design and manufacturing process. The toothbrush provides a relevant example of this, as although it appears to be a mundane bathroom item it has a history that far exceeds it’s reputation.

Just recently, the Discovery Channel actually commissioned a television program to share this narrative and chart the journey of the toothbrush from it’s basic beginnings to a feat of scientific engineering. It is an interesting story of continued evolution, which emphasizes how the resourcefulness of individuals through the ages has lead to the current designs that feature in stores nationwide. So just where did our modern tooth cleaning tool originate from and how has it been developed over time?

The Origin’s of the Toothbrush

The first recorded description of a toothbrush can be traced back to approximately 1600BC, where Chinese communities developed a chewing stick made from twigs with frayed ends. This method or oral cleaning was carried over into other cultures, as Indian medicine used twigs from a banyan tree to achieve the same result. Muslim countries created a chewing stick manufactured from roots and twigs of the Arak tree, and this became referred to as Miswak through the ages. Members of less advanced societies simply took to rubbing baking soda or chalk on their teeth as a way of keeping them clean, and although the effect were minimal this practice became widespread across the world.

Just as Chinese culture developed the concept of the toothbrush, it was also responsible for the design and creation of the world’s first bristle brush. Invented during the Tang Dynasty between 619 and 907 AD, the first prototype was made from hog bristle and quickly became popular among citizens. The bristle toothbrush, which at this time could also be manufactured from ox-bones and horse tail hairs, quickly became a European phenomenon thanks to the efforts of travelers who took the innovation back to their home lands.

The Dawn of the Modern Toothbrush: A Meeting of Tradition and Science

It was William Addis of England who is widely reported to have designed the first mass produced toothbrush during the 18th century. Taking the initial concept that had originated in China, he developed a more durable design concept that quickly took hold and laid the foundation for the modern toothbrushes available today. Using a small animal bone as the handle, he drilled small holes into it and passed tied tuft bristles through them to create the cleaning surface. With the bristles then glued into position, this design of toothbrush lasted far longer than previous models used b citizens.

Within 30 years similar toothbrushes were being mass produced in England, Germany, France and Japan, with different bristle material used depending on the individual cost of each. The first patent and mass production in the U.S. quickly followed by 1885, and as a globally popular product he toothbrush became the subject of several more innovations during the 1900’s. These included the integration of celluloid handles and synthetic fibers into toothbrush design, which served to improve both the durability and effectiveness of modern brushes.

Technology Just Improves on the Original Design

Despite the introduction of improved materials and enhanced technology into contemporary toothbrush design, the product remains remarkably similar to the very first bristle brushes developed in China centuries ago. While technological and scientific advancement may have improved the efficiency of the toothbrush, it has done little to change the concept or even much in the way of the functional design. Still featuring a rigid handle and flexible bristles, it remains a product with a strong link to it’s historical roots.