Looking Back: The Invention Of The Toothbrush

Dec 23, 2013

Your toothbrush. You use it every morning (and hopefully every night!) but have you ever thought about its backstory? Where’d it come from and why? Here’s a quick summary of the history of the trusty toothbrush!

Alternative Materials

Prior the toothbrush numerous items were used as the go-to oral hygiene tool. This includes:

  • Porcupine quills

  • Animal bones

  • Bird feathers

  • Tree twigs

It is debated that a tool resembling today’s toothbrush, made up of bristles, may have been used as early as the Tang dynasty in China. Around this time one Japanese Zen master wrote he had seen some monks in China using horse hair attached to a bone to clean their teeth. 1690 is the first recorded using of the word “toothbrush.”

Out With The Old

In 1780 the first mass produced toothbrush was produced, but the first patent for the toothbrush wasn’t filed until 1857 by H.N. Wadsworth. At this point animal hair was still being used for bristles and it was proving less than effective. Animal hair doesn’t dry quickly and the individual hairs were prone to falling out. In the early 1900’s they were replaced with synthetic bristles usually made from nylon.

Prior WWII brushing your teeth wasn’t completely routine. It only became so after soldiers were required to clean their teeth daily. Up until 1980 there were relatively few changes in toothbrush design. It was this year that Johnson & Johnson released the “Reach” brush, designed with an angled head and more bristles. Since then we regularly are pitched a new and innovative brush design that promises better results.

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