History of the Toothbrush

Two minutes, twice a day.  That’s means if you are doing things right, you spend 1,460 very intimate minutes brushing your teeth every year!  With all the health and social benefits you get from keeping your teeth clean, did you ever really get to know the history of one of your most valuable dental tools?

3500-3000 BC

– The Babylonians and the Egyptians had a very simple solution for cleaning their teeth.  They would fray the end of a twig and rub along the teeth and gums. Tombs of the ancient Egyptians had “tooth sticks” along with all of their other grooming devices because they believed the afterlife required them.

1600 BC

– The Chinese developed “chewing sticks,” which were made from aromatic tree twigs.  These cleaned debris while leaving a nice, fresh aftertaste and it’s believed that some tree saps were antibacterial as well.

7th Century

– The Islamic started using chew sticks called Miswak for purification of the mouth.  They were prescribed for use before every prayer, which is five times a day.


– Japanese Zen master Dogen Kigen wrote that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horse-tail hairs attached to an ox-bone handle.

15th Century-

The Chinese are believed to have invented the first natural bristle toothbrush.  It was made from hog’s hair and bone or bamboo for the handle.  When that design was taken to Europe, it was redesigned with a softer bristle made of horsehair or feathers.


William Addis, an inventor from England, came up with a modern design carved from cattle bone.  The three rows of bristles were made from swine hair just like before but this was the first mass produced toothbrush that we know of.  He actually came up with this design while he was in prison for causing a riot.  Unhappy with the usual rag cleaning method, he chose to find a better way to clean his teeth.  He saved a bone from his dinner and drilled holes in.  Then he got some bristles from a guard, tied them into tufts and used some glue to finish the piece.  When he got out of prison, Mr. Addis started a toothbrush business and became a very successful man.  In 1840, his oldest son continued the company and massed produced the brushes under the company name “Wisdom Toothbrushes”.


The first ever United States patent for a toothbrush was granted to H.N. Wadsworth. Its mass production didn’t started until 1885.  It also was made from boar hair bristles but those hairs didn’t dry completely and were prone to fall apart.


During World War II, soldiers were ordered to brush their teeth every day.  This was actually the beginning of routine brushing in the United States.  Around the same time, bone handles began being replaced by plastics and synthetic fibers. In 1938, DuPont invented nylon, which then became the preferred material for toothbrush bristles.


The first electric toothbrush was invented in Switzerland by Dr. Philippe-Guy Woog, which later came to the United States in 1960.

That is quite a history, wouldn’t you agree?  In 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention that most Americans could not live without and we totally agree.  Remember, even when you have the most expensive of devices, those bristles still harbor lots of bacteria.  Make sure to mark on the calendar to change your brush heads at least every three months!

Many of our patients keep their mouths healthiest when on a three month cleaning schedule.  That’s just right for remembering when to change your toothbrush. Is it time for your dental checkup and visit with the hygienist?