Ask Dr. J
From Egypt To World War 2: A History Of The Toothbrush
As with many inventions, the modern toothbrush can be traced back to the Chinese.
From Egypt To China
It is believed that the first toothbrush was created in the 1400’s, and was made with a bamboo handle and boar hair bristles. These bristles came from the back of the Siberian wild boar, and they were rather rough on the gums.
The ancient Egyptians may have been been the first to come up with the idea of brushing their teeth, but the toothbrush they came up with doesn’t look at all like the modern toothbrush. They used a stick which had the end frayed and softened. This stick was then rubbed against the teeth to keep them clean. This kind of toothbrush didn’t catch on like the Chinese toothbrush, though it is still used today in some developing countries when no toothbrushes are available.
By the time the toothbrush had made its way into Europe, people discovered that the hair from a horse’s back was better but because horses were highly valued by the Europeans, the boar bristle was still the most commonly used. The toothbrush initially caught on in France before spreading through Europe.
Arriving In America
American H. N. Wadsworth began to mass-produce the boar hair toothbrush in 1885. The boar hair toothbrush continued until about the early 1900s. The first nylon brush was created in 1937 in the United States by Wallace H. Carothers.
By 1938, nylon symbolized all things modern, and the nylon toothbrush began to catch on. It was much more sanitary than the animal bristle, since that retained bacteria and did not dry as quickly as the nylon fibers. The first truly electric toothbrush was created in Switzerland in 1939, but these devices didn’t really reach the United States until 1960. In 1987, the first home-use electric rotary toothbrush hit the market.
It is interesting to note that brushing teeth wasn’t a common practice in the United States until after World War 2. Returning soldiers brought back the habit of brushing their teeth that they’d picked up over in Europe. While on the warfront, soldiers were ingrained with the habit that they needed to brush their teeth daily.