The History of the Toothbrush and Toothpaste

By Burton Gooch on February 13, 2020


Woman brushing her teethFamily dentist Burton Gooch offers a comprehensive range of dental services that promote good oral health, but they must be complemented by consistent oral hygiene practices These types of practices have been around for centuries. However, the oral hygiene habits that were used in ancient civilizations aren’t quite the same as those practiced by our Birmingham, AL, patients today.

Most notably, the tools used to clean the teeth were much harsher before modern inventions paved the way for the toothbrushes and toothpastes people are used to seeing on shelves today. Here, we go over the history of the toothbrush and toothpaste, and discuss some of the earlier versions of these cleaning tools.

The Evolution of the Toothbrush

The basic shape and design of the toothbrush has actually stayed remarkably the same since it was first used around 3000 BC. What has changed significantly over time is the materials that have been used to build the toothbrush.

The first version of the toothbrush is commonly referred to as a chew stick. Used in ancient civilizations, this primitive toothbrush was literally a thin stick with a frayed end. People would pull apart the end of the stick to create thin pieces that could clean between and around the teeth. The solid end of the stick was used as a handle.

Around 1500, the Chinese designed a toothbrush that was even more similar to those used today. These toothbrushes consisted of a solid carved handle with a set of bristles on the end. Again, it was the materials used to make these toothbrushes that sets them apart from those used today. The handles of these toothbrushes were typically carved out of bamboo or animal bone, and the bristles were made of hairs from the neck of a hog.

It wasn’t until Dupont introduced the world to nylon in 1938 that toothbrushes started to be fabricated using synthetic materials. Since that time, toothbrushes have primarily consisted of a plastic handle and a head of nylon bristles.

The one big change in toothbrush design is the invention of the electric toothbrush. The first electric toothbrush hit the American market in 1960. Today, electric toothbrushes are a popular choice among our Birmingham patients. With rotating bristles and built-in timers, electric toothbrushes can provide a thorough cleaning.

Evolution of Toothpaste

Toothpaste is another oral hygiene product that has seen some changes over the years. Surprisingly, toothpaste dates back even further than the toothbrush. There is evidence that Egyptians were cleaning their teeth with toothpaste as far back as 5000 BC. As with the toothbrush, the basic principles of toothpaste have stayed the same over the years, but toothpaste ingredients have changed significantly.

The toothpaste used by the Egyptians was in powder form and made of ox hooves ashes, burnt eggshells, and pumice. The Greeks and Romans used even more abrasive ingredients in their toothpastes, including crushed bones and shells.

Around the 1800s, a gentler toothpaste was formulated. However, with ingredients like soap, chalk, and crushed charcoal, it was still much different than the toothpastes used today.

Toothpaste started to take a more modern form around 1850, when the first paste formula was introduced. And after 1945, soap was removed from toothpastes and replaced with cleaning agents that are still used today, such as sodium lauryl sulphate.

Now, our Birmingham patients have a variety of toothpastes to choose from. Modern toothpastes come in different colors, different flavors, and different formulas that can target issues such as dental cavities, tooth sensitivity, and tooth discoloration.

Contact Our Dental Practice

Today, we are fortunate to have the best oral hygiene tools at our disposal, but nothing can replace the quality of care provided by a dental professional. If you need a dental exam or cleaning, or would like to learn more about the other dental services offered by Dr. Burton Gooch, send us a message at your earliest convenience or call (205) 545-8001.

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