Toothbrushing tools date back to 3500-3000 BC when the Egyptians made a brush by fraying the end of a twig. Tombs of the ancient Egyptians have been found containing toothsticks alongside their owners. Around 1600BC, the Chinese developed “chewing sticks” which were made from aromatic tree twigs to freshen breath.
The Chinese are believed to have invented the first natural bristle toothbrush made from the bristles from pigs’ necks, with the bristles attached to a bone or bamboo handle. When it was brought from China to Europe, this design was adapted and often used softer horsehairs which many Europeans preferred. Other designs in Europe used feathers.
The first toothbrush of a more modern design was made by William Addis in England around 1780 – the handle was carved from cattle bone and the brush portion was still made from swine bristles.
Natural bristles were the only source of bristles until nylon was invented. The invention of nylon started the development of the truly modern toothbrush in 1938, and by the 1950s softer nylon bristles were being made, as people preferred these. The first electric toothbrush was made in 1939.
Today, both manual and electric toothbrushes come in many shapes and sizes and are typically made of plastic molded handles and nylon bristles. The most recent toothbrush models include handles that are straight, angled, curved, and contoured with grips and soft rubber areas to make them easier to hold and use. Toothbrush bristles are usually synthetic and range from very soft to soft in texture, although harder bristle versions are available. Toothbrush heads range from very small for young children to larger sizes for older children and adults and come in a variety of shapes such as rectangular, oblong, oval and almost round.
The basic fundamentals have not changed since the times of the Egyptians, a handle to grip, and a bristle-like feature with which to clean the teeth. Over its long history, the toothbrush has evolved to become a scientifically designed tool using modern ergonomic designs and safe and hygienic materials that benefit us all.