A Brief History of Oral Hygiene

The importance of oral hygiene is something even the oldest civilizations understood. Obviously there weren’t unlimited toothpaste flavors or fancy electric toothbrushes readily available. There were, however, a broad array of creative solutions used throughout history.

Toothbrushes through time

The most rudimentary of teeth cleaning implements included chewing on bark or sticks with frayed ends. The first version of these was discovered in Babylonia in 3500 BC. Feathers, bones, or even porcupine quills were also used as toothpicks throughout the Greek and Roman empires.

The first approximation of a modern toothbrush, invented in China in the late 1400’s, used stiff hog hairs as bristles attached to the end of a bamboo stick.

In 1780, a man serving a stint in a British prison named William Adis constructed a toothbrush which was the model for the first mass production. He drilled holes in a small bone left from his meal, added tufted boar hairs, and sealed it with glue. When he was released from prison, he began manufacturing these toothbrushes as a business. His company is still in business today under the name of Wisdom Toothbrushes.

Nylon-bristle toothbrushes, which we use to this day, were introduced in 1938 by Dupont. The first electric toothbrush was invented in Switzerland in 1954.

A taste for toothpaste

Toothpaste has likewise seen many permutations and improvements throughout history. One of the first known references to toothpaste was found in a 4th century Egyptian manuscript, which detailed a mixture of pepper, salt, mint leaves, and iris flowers. Ancient toothpastes were made from a power of ox hooves’ ashes and burnt eggshells. Crushed bones and oyster shells were favored by the Greeks and Romans. Ginseng, mints, and salt were favored by the Chinese. Urine was a surprisingly popular base for early toothpaste formulas, too.

To modern people, these ingredients may seem questionable, if not downright distasteful. However, studies of early people’s teeth often show less incidences of tooth decay that one would think – mostly likely due to the lack of refined and processed sugar in their diets. But back then, if a tooth did become infected, the only treatment option was typically extraction.

The advent of the mass market toothbrush naturally spurred the invention of mass market toothpaste. There were a variety of formulations, most of which were in powder form. They typically contained soap, chalk, and/or ground charcoal. Creme Dentifrice, the first toothpaste in a jar, was developed in the 1850s. While commonly available, Dentifrice was typically made and sold by individual dentists. Colgate began producing toothpaste in jars in 1873. It wasn’t until the collapsible metal tube, like we use today, was invented in the 1890s that toothpaste became truly mass-market and easily available to general consumers.

A Dentistry Practice with a History

Here at Beavers Dentistry, we’ve been providing dental care for over 40 years. We’ve seen a number of innovations in toothbrush styles, designs and technologies over the years, and tasted many different flavors of toothpaste.

We pride ourselves on our ability to combine modern dental technologies with good old-fashioned know-how. We offer general, cosmetic and restorative dental procedures for the entire family. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.