THE modern toothbrush, which is actually a high-tech instrument made of plastic and nylon bristles, started as not much more than a humble toothpick. Toothpicks are made out of wood, thorn, metal, or porcupine quills and have been around for at least 3000 years.
Roman and Greek civilisations valued oral hygiene; even slaves had access to chew sticks made from the wood of trees and shrubs such as liquorice, lucern, mallow root, myrtle, dogwood, or the tender shoots of peach. The end of each stick is unravelled by chewing and separating the fibres which scrape the teeth. These sticks still are used extensively in some parts of the world today.
In Arabia and India, chew sticks or siwaks have a religious ritual significance. By brushing for 15 minutes is believed to be the equivalent of 70 prayers. The siwak is mentioned in early literature from Mesopotamia, believed by many to be the cradle of civilisation.
Virtually every civilisation has at some time produced powders, slaves or washes to freshen the breath and ward off oral disease. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, compounded a tooth powder that included burnt hare’s head and mouse parts. Roman literature is replete with recipes for dentifrices (toothpaste) and instructions for their use. The physician Rhazes (850-932 A.D) was the first one to recommend filling cavities.
Abulcasis (1050-1122 A.D) illustrates and describes dental scrapers for the first time in “De Chirugia”, a work that remained a standard surgical textbook for centuries. It shows 14 scrapers and describes when they should be used. Today, we still use scrapers.
ometimes on the surface of the teeth, both inside and outside are deposited rough, ugly looking scales, green, yellow, this corruption is communicated to the gums, and the teeth are in the process of time denuded. The ancient dentists used to lay the patient’s head on their lap and scrape the teeth.
2. Giovanni Archoli, an Italian physician who died in 1484, wrote 10 rules for dental hygiene, including cleansing the teeth after meals. He was one of the first to mention the connection between food and dental decay.
By the 15th century, English barber-surgeons performed dental procedures. They scraped teeth with various metal instruments and rubbed them with a stick dipped in “aqua fortis”, a solution of nitric acid. The acid certainly made teeth white — before they ate the enamel away and caused teeth to die.
During the 1800s, toothbrushes were made by hand. The thighbones of cattle were considered superior for use as handles because they were the only ones strong enough to withstand pressure, especially when brushes became wet during use. Bristles came from the necks and shoulders of swine, especially those in colder climates such as Siberia. They were considered stronger. Badger bristles were avoided because it was believed that they were too soft.
One of the first illustrations of a toothbrush accompanied the 1818 tract “Le Dentiste des Dames (the women’s dentist). A fashion among American men was not to clean their teeth at all, but have the service performed periodically by their barbers.
By 1840 toothbrushes were being manufactured in France, Germany and England. The use of new production methods and cheap labour enabled omate brushes to be made with decorated handles and innumerable small knots of bristles. The French took the art of manufacturing brushes to Japan, where cheap brushes were made for poorer people. In the 1890s early studies began to link tooth decay with oral hygiene and Americans took the brush to fight bacteria. Today, in a good supermarket in the USA, one can count at least 80 different products and brands of oral care items, including scores of different toothbrushes.
The Florence Manufacturing Co., one of the first to produce toothbrushes in America, began operating in the mid 1880s. In 1885, the company made a popular model called the Pro-phy-lac-tic Brush, and in 1924 they became the first to box their brushes to prevent contamination.
The first nylon brushes were made in 1938, developed by researchers at E.I Dupont de Nemours. The use of nylon filaments gained widespread acceptance because of the wars and other world disturbances that interfered with the importation of good natural bristles. Manufacturers still use the combination of nylon bristles with plastic handles.
By 1990, electric brushes are believed to have captured roughly 20-25 per cent of the market. By 1994, toothbrushes that operate on principles of ultrasound became available to the public. From 1990-1995, several dozen new brushes flooded the American toothbrush market, featuring all kinds of shapes, sizes, colours and functions.