Have you ever gone a couple of days without brushing your teeth? We hope not! Good oral hygiene is important. But if you have, you've probably experienced that grimy, mucky feeling that can happen when your teeth need to be cleaned.
No one knows for sure when ancient man first began to develop tools to clean the teeth. The first tool could have been a simple finger used to remove dirt from the teeth with a fingernail. Some experts believe some ancient peoples may have used a powder made of broken eggshells to help clean their teeth.
Before the modern toothbrush, various tools were used to clean teeth. The first of these was likely the chew stick, which was a simple twig with a frayed end. Ancient chew sticks have been found that date back to the ancient Babylonians (3500 B.C.) and ancient Egyptians (3000 B.C.).
In other cultures, other items may have been used in a way similar to chew sticks. Items that have been recovered by archeologists include bird feathers, animal bones, and even quills from porcupines!
The first toothbrushes featuring bristles were probably created in China over 800 years ago. Historians believe the Chinese were the first to attach stiff hairs from the necks of pigs or boars to bone or bamboo handles. When these primitive toothbrushes made their way to Europe, they were modified to use softer materials, such as horsehair or feathers.
The creator of the first mass-produced toothbrush is believed to have been William Addis of England in 1780. Addis had been jailed in 1770 for inciting a riot. In jail, he developed a toothbrush consisting of an animal bone and bristles made of pigs' hair that were inserted into drilled holes and held in place by glue. After his release, he started a toothbrush manufacturing company that stayed in his family until 1996 and still manufactures toothbrushes today.
It would not be until 1857 that the first United States patent for a toothbrush would be granted to H. N. Wadsworth. Mass production of toothbrushes didn't start in the United States until 1885, though.
Toothbrush design didn't improve much for many decades, unfortunately. Animal bristles were prone to falling out. They also retained bacteria and did not dry easily. That all changed in 1938, when DuPont created nylon.
The first toothbrushes that resembled our modern devices were created in 1938 with softer nylon fibers. Despite the improved design of these toothbrushes, brushing teeth didn't become widespread in the United States until after World War II, when returning soldiers helped to popularize the practice after they had been trained to brush their teeth daily in the military.