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Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Tracing The History of Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Ancient oral care can teach us, surprisingly, about how to deal with tooth decay. Particularly ancient Chinese dentistry. Here's what we can learn from Ancient China.

Dental care is something we tend to take for granted because it’s something we do in our day-to-day lives. It’s, then, fascinating to see how civilizations brushed their teeth over the history of dentistry, giving this mundane task a new level of profundity. It’s easier to appreciate your toothbrush, after all, after you’ve seen an old Chinese toothbrush. Today, then, we’ll be taking a deep dive into some of dentistry’s finest moments in history—particularly ancient Chinese dentistry.

How Toothpaste Came To Be

Toothpaste is believed to have originated six thousand years ago in China, Egypt, and India.

China: The Chinese would use bones and twigs and then mash them together with flower petals, salt, and water to make a thick paste. This was their version of toothpaste. Then, the Ancient Chinese would apply this paste on the end of a bamboo leaf to place it on their teeth.

Apart from toothbrushing, there were other ways the Ancient Chinese would keep their teeth clean and breath smelling fresh. For instance, rinsing the mouth with tea after eating, using Poria fungus as toothpaste, and sprinkling certain herbs or spices into one’s mouth would also be important for the Ancient Chinese.

Egypt: Manuscripts from the 400s in Ancient Egypt depicted a recipe for the most efficient toothpaste. A mixture of pepper, salt, iris flowers, and wet mint leaves would often be ingredients in Egyptian toothpaste. Using the end of a split twig, like the Chinese, this paste would then be applied.

Some documentation also refers to a type of toothpaste that is deemed as urine-based and is particularly well-known in Rome. Research on the benefits of urine therapy might back up the effectiveness of brushing with urine.

India: Toothbrushing in Ancient India was quite different from the Ancient Chinese and Egyptians. Twigs were also utilized for brushing. However, the Ancient Indians would fill these twigs with sweet nectar prior to brushing.

Ancient Indians would then chew on the twig, gently rubbing it against their teeth in the process. As a result, the ancient people of India would enjoy whiter teeth, a cleaner mouth, and fresher breath.

Ancient Romans and Greeks would often prefer their toothpaste to contain oyster shells and crushed bones for greater abrasion. For extra flavor and for the treatment of unpleasant breath, bark and charcoal might also be a part of Romans’ toothpaste.

The development of toothpaste in the contemporary era didn’t begin until the 1800s.

As disgusting as it might sound to us today, early versions of toothpaste would contain soap. It wasn’t uncommon for chalk to also be an ingredient in toothpastes in the 1850s. Meanwhile, in the 1800s, betel nut would another addition to toothpaste. A decade later, the use of ground charcoal in toothpaste was depicted in a home encyclopedia.

Modern toothpaste as we know today often contains specific formulation to avoid or treat certain ailments such as tooth sensitivity. In 1914, fluoride toothpaste was fresh on the market, with the goal to prevent tooth decay. Toothpaste with low abrasive properties also would become part of our toothpaste choices.

Fluoride, a common ingredient in present-day toothpaste, was only added into toothpaste formula in 1914. By 1960, the American Dental Associated has endorsed fluoride in toothpaste as effective in oral care. Aside from fluoride, an antibacterial and antifungal agent, Triclosan, was also added to some toothpaste. The antibacterial and antifungal agent protects against plaque build-up, periodontal diseases, bad breath, and tooth decay.

At present, different toothpaste variants to address different dental needs of consumers are sold in the market.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

How Toothbrushes Came To Be

Ancient people used items easily found in their surroundings as a toothbrush. Such items would include chew sticks, animal bones, bird feathers, tree twigs, and porcupine quills.

In the late 1400s, the Chinese developed the first modern concept of a toothbrush. Attached to a bamboo stick, the toothbrush used the stiff hairs from a hog’s hair. On the other hand, Muslims used miswak, a twig derived from a Salvadora persica tree, to clean their teeth. Also, in ancient Indian medicine, the neem tree was used to create toothbrushes.

The very first mass-produced toothbrush is credited to William Addis of England, who created it in 1780. Meanwhile, in the United States, H.N. Wadsworth held the first patent for a toothbrush in 1857. However, mass production of the oral hygiene instrument only started in 1885.

In 1938, toothbrushes with natural animal bristles such as Siberian boars were replaced with synthetic fibers like nylon. This gave birth to the first nylon-bristled toothbrush manufactured from nylon yarn on February 24, 1938. We can give credit to American conglomerate DuPont for replacing animal fibers with synthetic fibers.

In 1954, Dr. Philippe Guy Woog of Switzerland challenged the traditional manual toothbrush market with his invention of the first electric toothbrush. His invention was a plugged-in device running on a line voltage and initially designed for people receiving orthodontic treatment or with limited motor skills.

In the 1960s, American multinational conglomerate General Electric (GE) came out with a rechargeable, cordless toothbrush with the capability to move up and down.

Electric Toothbrush

Most dentists now recommend using an electric toothbrush. They’re easier on the gums, make cleaning hard to reach easier, and do a better overall job cleaning your teeth.

You might wonder if the extra cost is worth it. Both leading brands, Sonicare and Oral B, have higher upfront costs and their batteries eventually wear out. However, using an electric toothbrush can reduce dental plaque by up to 21 percent and reduce the risk of gingivitis by 11 percent or more after three months of use. If you’re still not sure, here are 4 reasons why you should buy one:

  1. Electric toothbrushes make oral hygiene a lot easier

    Say what you will about using an electric toothbrush, but one thing’s clear—it does make your brushing habits a whole lot easier to keep. But it’s not a matter of being lazy. Did your dentist ever tell you that your brushing technique isn’t good enough? Now you don’t have to worry about that any longer. Your electric toothbrush will do it for you.

    And it’s not just for convenience’s sake. It’s also helpful for those with physical disabilities or for people who can’t reach certain areas in their mouth when they brush. Because it makes cleaning your teeth and gums much more accessible, you’re sure to have an easier time keeping to your oral hygiene routine. No need to dread brushing before bedtime any longer. 

  2. As a result, electric toothbrushes are much more efficient at cleaning your teeth and gums

    No combination sounds as sweet as having something that’s both easy and efficient. And when it comes to your brushing habits, all the more so. While your daily brush and floss are necessary, it can be a little tedious.

    Fortunately, electric toothbrushes aren’t just easy to use. They’re also proven to be more efficient at cleaning your teeth and gums than a manual toothbrush. And it’s no surprise. The best unit cleans just as well as the toothbrushes used at the dentist’s office. They target those hard-to-reach places and scrub out the plaque that builds up within them. Hence, his is why a lot of dentists recommend them.

  3. It’s eco-friendly.

    Forget chucking your toothbrush into the landfill or buying those fancy (yet slightly expensive) bamboo toothbrushes. All you need is to clean and change the electric toothbrush heads. Simple. And for the most part, when you purchase an electric toothbrush, the electric toothbrush heads usually come free. Just get the right brand.

  4. It makes your follow-up appointments go smoother

    Finally, one of the units’ top advantages is that it can make your visits to the dental office go far more seamless. The typical brush and floss can turn into a mere brushing, especially for units with soft bristles. And because you can focus on your brushing more with an electric toothbrush, you’re less likely to miss spots where tooth decay usually thrives.       

Are you considering an electric toothbrush for your child? Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to remind you to brush your teeth for a full two minutes. Many parents find this helps reinforce good brushing techniques with their children. Not to mention, many children find the novelty of using an electric toothbrush fun.

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