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Dental Hygiene, an Ancient Practice – The History of the Toothbrush
One of the most asked questions by adults and children is the origin of the toothbrush. There are several schools of thought on when the real toothbrush was created, but you have to look far into the past for the earliest evidence of oral hygiene.
The Chinese were believed to have created the first real toothbrush, or device used to clean teeth, but it was very different from the ones we are used to today. These first toothbrushes, made in the 1400s, did not use nylon for the bristles or plastic for the handles. They were made from bamboo, one of the most common plants in this region. The bamboo formed the handle that people could hold on to. Attached to this handle was a set of bristles, which were made from the hard bristles of the Siberian boar. The hair used came from the neck of this animal. It is the toothbrush associated with having been the ancestor of the one we use today.
However, there is evidence that there was another form of toothbrush dating back 3000 years before the birth of Christ. Because of this, the history of the toothbrush proves that this device is one of the oldest still used by man, only really surpassed by the wheel. This form of toothbrush was found in the pyramids of the Egyptians. These toothbrushes were made from a stick. Unlike the Chinese version of the toothbrush, the tip of the stick was scraped to make the wood fibers softer. This stick was then rubbed against the teeth to serve as a form of oral hygiene. This form of toothbrush has not spread as widely as the Chinese version.
The Chinese version of the toothbrush spread to Europe, where the Siberian boar bore the brunt of the invention’s growing popularity. The only downside to Siberian boar bristles was that they were very rough on the gums. For this reason, some people started using the bristles found on the backs of horses to make the bristles for their brushes, as it was much easier on their gums and teeth. Despite the added softness of horse hair, boar hair was more commonly used, as horses were too valuable to Europeans during this time.
The boar bristle toothbrush continued to be used until the early 1900s. In 1937, nylon was created in Du Pont Laboratories by Wallace H. Carothers. This invention forever changed the history of the toothbrush, as well as all other devices requiring fibrous material, including strings. In 1938, nylon became the hallmark of modernization, from the creation of nylon stockings to Dr. West’s first nylon toothbrush. This brush was called Dr. West’s Miracle Toothbrush. Even with this breakthrough in the toothbrush, it wasn’t until World War II that Americans began to take oral hygiene more seriously. It was a direct result of the war. This influence spurred the development of better toothbrushes.
Toothpastes and whiteners
Another aspect of the toothbrush story that needs to be considered is toothpaste and other whitening agents. These are usually used with the toothbrush to ensure that the teeth and breath were acceptable. The concept of toothpaste and mouthwashes is quite old – almost as old as the Egyptian toothbrush. The first known toothpaste was created by the Egyptians. It was said to contain one drachma of rock salt, two drachmas of mint, one drachma of dried iris flowers, and 20 peppercorns. This was then ground and mixed to form a powder. When mixed with saliva and applied to the teeth, it is said to help whiten and clean your teeth. When experimented with by an Australian dentist, the mixture worked much better than anything created until the 21st century. The only downside was the fact that it made his gums bleed.
In the 18th century, the next recorded version of toothpaste appeared. This mix called for dragon’s blood, cinnamon, and burnt alum. This mix tends to be more fun for many scientists, as there is no evidence that the “dragon” ever existed. What was actually considered dragon’s blood is unknown.
The 19th century saw many innovations in toothpaste, although many of them would be repulsive compared to what we are used to today. Charcoal, for example, was used to clean teeth. Most toothpastes of this era were powders that became a paste when introduced into saliva. Many of these different toothpastes have been designed to both clean teeth and give the user better breath. This is where the modern idea of toothpaste was born and one of the turning points in the history of toothpaste. The combination of these pastes and the toothbrush has increased the chances of having cleaner and healthier teeth and gums.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that toothpastes evolved to become more modern. Colgate, and many other toothpaste companies, worked to design toothpastes that tasted great while providing the means to clean teeth without bleeding gums. Many ingredients are now used in toothpastes, with fluoride being one of the most common. There is also a huge variety of “herbal” toothpastes, which do not contain this component. Each of these types is designed to meet the needs and wants of each type of person. This high level of choice is the first evolution of toothpastes. While only a few were available as early as Egyptian times, there is now something for everyone.
The combination of toothpaste and the modern toothbrush gives everyone the oral hygiene and dental health they need to be able to have those much desired sparkling teeth. This combination also helps prevent the loss of your teeth later in life, so dentures aren’t needed that early. The history of the toothbrush and toothpaste should not be despised, as the options used back then were nowhere near as pleasant as the types available today.
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