iPhoneOgraphy – 25 Sep 2016 (Day 269/366)
The toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth and gums and tongue that consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles mounted on a handle, which facilitates the cleansing of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
Toothpaste, which often contains fluoride, is commonly used in conjunction with a toothbrush to increase the effectiveness of tooth brushing. Toothbrushes are available with different bristle textures, sizes and forms. Most dentists recommend using a toothbrush labelled “soft”, since hard bristled toothbrushes can damage tooth enamel and irritate the gums. The predecessor of the toothbrush, the chew stick, first appeared in Egypt and Babylonia, and the earliest bristle toothbrush, the direct predecessor to the modern toothbrush, originated in China. Toothbrushes were introduced to Europe through merchants and travelers in East Asia by the 17th century. DuPont introduced the nylon toothbrush in the 1930s.
A variety of oral hygiene measures have been used since before recorded history prior to the toothbrush. This has been verified by various excavations done all over the world, in which chew sticks, tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills were recovered.
The predecessor of the toothbrush is the chew stick. Chew sticks were twigs with a frayed end used to brush against the teeth, while the other end was used as a toothpick. The earliest chew sticks were discovered in Babylonia in 3500 BC, an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC, and mentioned in Chinese records dating from 1600 BC. The Greeks and Romans used toothpicks to clean their teeth and toothpick-like twigs have been excavated in Qin Dynasty tombs. Chew sticks remain common in Africa; the rural Southern United States – and in the Islamic world the use of chewing stick Miswak is considered a pious action, and has been prescribed to be used before every prayer five times a day. Miswak has been used by Muslims since 7th Century AD.
The first bristle toothbrush, resembling the modern toothbrush, was found in China during the Tang Dynasty (619–907) and used hog bristle. The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were then attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. In 1223, Japanese Zen master Dōgen Kigen recorded on Shōbōgenzō that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horse-tail hairs attached to an ox-bone handle. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought back from China to Europe by travellers. It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century. The earliest identified use of the word toothbrush in English was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood, who wrote in 1690 that he had bought a toothbrush from J. Barret. Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes exported from merchants in China too firm, and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes manufactured from horsehair. Mass-produced toothbrushes, made with horse or boar bristle, continued to be imported to England from China until the mid-20th century.
In Europe, William Addis of England is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush, in 1780. In 1770, he had been jailed for causing a riot; while in prison he decided that the method used to clean teeth – at the time rubbing a rag with soot and salt on the teeth – was ineffective and could be improved. To that end, he saved a small animal bone left over from the meal he had eaten the previous night, into which he drilled small holes. He then obtained some bristles from one of his guards, which he tied in tufts that he then passed through the holes in the bone, and which he finally sealed with glue. After his release, he started a business that would manufacture the toothbrushes he had built, and he soon became very rich. He died in 1808, and left the business to his eldest son, also called William, and it stayed in family ownership until 1996. Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in England, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristle was used for cheaper toothbrushes, and badger hair for the more expensive ones.
The first patent for a toothbrush was granted to H. N. Wadsworth in 1857 (US Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States only started in 1885. The rather advanced design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Unfortunately, animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retains bacteria and does not dry well, and the bristles often fell out. In addition to bone, sometimes handles were made of wood or ivory. In the United States, brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily.
During the 1900s, celluloid handles gradually replaced bone handles in toothbrushes. Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush, made with nylon yarn, went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was invented in Switzerland in 1954. As of the turn of the 21st century, nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles, and the handles were usually molded from thermoplastic materials.
Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical-supplies firm, introduced the “Reach” toothbrush in 1977. It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: First, it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth; second, the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing) materials; and third, the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles, to clean between teeth. The Reach toothbrush was the first to have a specialized design intended to increase its effectiveness. Other models, from other manufacturers, soon followed; each of these had unique design features intended to be, and promoted as being, more effective than the basic toothbrush design that had been employed for years.
In January 2003 the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.