Manual Toothbrush Origins

Tooth cleaning devices date back thousands of years. Primitive configurations of the toothbrush - called “chewsticks” - are mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 600 B.C. The toothbrush in its more modern form finds its roots in 1498 A.D. China, when it was reportedly constructed of hog bristles. When toothbrushes began to surface in Europe in the late 18th and 19th centuries - often made of gold, ivory or ebony and with replaceable heads - their high cost prevented ownership by the masses. By the 1930s, however, affordable, plastic-handled, nylon filament manual toothbrushes had become widely available.1,2 While synthetic materials were thereafter the industry standard in toothbrushes until the 1970s, hard-bristled versions became popular as a result of a “brushing harder = cleaner teeth” mindset. This well-intended but misguided philosophy may have precipitated many cases of toothbrush abrasion to the teeth and gingiva as well as gingival recession of the surrounding tissues. Fortunately, softer, safer bristled-models now prevail and consumers have gotten the message that aggressive brushing is unnecessary. Toothbrushing is now an integral part of the daily routine of most individuals in industrialized countries, who seek cosmetic and/or oral health benefits.3