Evolution of the Toothbrush

The Chewing Sticks

The Toothbrush first appeared around 3500 BC and was used by Egyptians and Babylonians. People often chewed on one end of the stick until the fibers of the wood formed a brush which was then used to clean the teeth. These chewing sticks were the ancestors of the Miswak toothbrushes which are used the same way as the primitive chewing sticks but are made from the branches of the Salvadora persica tree. The Salvadora persica branches have healing and antiseptic qualities.  Miswak is still used today and is considered by many to be superior to modern tooth brushes (study comparing miswak and toothbrushes). The use of Miswak is especially popular amongst Muslim communities and can be purchased at most Indian, Pakistani or Arab stores.

Miswak__Sewak miswak

Other forms of early toothbrushes were strips of linen (used by ancient Greeks), bird feathers, animal bones, and porcupine quills but none were as effective as another early ancestor of the modern toothbrush, boar bristles on a bamboo stick.

The Modern Tooth Brush

During the period 1498-1600, Chinese “dentists” would pluck the hairs off of cold climate pigs and paste them on bamboo sticks or animal bones. These were then used just like a modern manual toothbrush to clean their teeth. Meanwhile, Europeans were still using the ancient Greek way of brushing their teeth; They were dipping linen cloth or sponges dipped in sulfur oils and salt solutions and rubbing away all the tooth grime. Then came William Addis, who introduced the Chinese way of brushing to England in 1780.


The idea of the bristle bone tooth brush came to William Addis while in prison. Boredom and necessity drove Addis to take a bone left behind from his dinner and bristles that he borrowed from a guard and combine them to create a tool to clean his teeth. It was a far better alternate to a dirty cloth with soot and salt. After his release, William Addis became the first person to mass produce modern toothbrushes. The Addis version of the toothbrush used cow tail hair drilled and tied on to cow bones. It was a success! His company still exists today but they have moved away from using bones as the toothbrush handle. Later versions of the European toothbrushes used horse hair instead of boar hair because it was softer.

Bone and Boar Bristle Toothbrush:


Napolean Bonaparte’s horse hair toothbrush:


Patent number 18,653 marked the first toothbrush patent in the United States of America. It was registered by an entrepreneur, H. N. Wadsworth, in 1857. Mass production of tooth brushes began in 1885 and dental hygiene enthusiasts sighed a fresh breath of relief.

The World Wars

When first world war began, the need for soup bones far outweighed the need for brush handles. Once again, necessity was a catalyst that helped create Celluloid handles. Soup bones everywhere breathed a soupy sigh of relief. Molds were created in the shape of brush handles and celluloid was poured in and cooled. At this point, brush makers either dipped bristles into liquid celluloid or drilled holes into solid celluloid handles and then stapled them in.

The next evolution of the toothbrush took place in 1938 when nylon bristles were used instead of animal hair. A company called DuPont de Nemours introduced the first toothbrushes with nylon bristles. These were much more comfortable than boar hair. Boars, vegetarians, Muslim people and Jewish people (who don’t consume animal or pork products) breathed a sigh of relief. The first such toothbrush was called Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft Toothbrush.



DuPont de Nemours used the World Wars to their advantage and used a support-the-troops war marketing campaign. Your American Duty is to brush your teeth so you can win the war.


Brushing teeth regularly became popular in the United States after US soldiers returned home and brought with them their strict habits of brushing their teeth. People were influenced by the actions of these US soldiers and brushing teeth finally became mainstream.

Late Modern Brushes

An electric toothbrush was invented in 1939 in Switzerland and it came out for public consumption in the 1960s. Broxodent, the electric toothbrush by Squibb, came out and was marketed for the “overly-vigorous type of toothbrushers”.


Dr.Scott was also another early pioneer of the electric toothbrush:


There exist over 3000 toothbrush patents today.

Oral-B is the current leading toothbrush creator and they have a wide variety of electric and manual brushes with the latest one being the Oral-B 9100.


The Oral-B Triumph 9100 with SmartGuide wirelessly transmits a map of your mouth to an LCD display. It monitors how many times you have brushed certain quadrants of your teeth and lets you know where you have yet to brush or which areas still need more work. Once your mouth is perfectly clean, it signals you to stop brushing.

Another type of toothbrush, Tooth Tunes, hums songs and tunes silently into your ear while you brush. The music stops after two minutes, the dentist recommended time for brushing teeth.


What does the future hold for toothbrushes? Will they go extinct and get replaced by something completely new or will they continue to innovate and get better? How much better can tooth brushes get any way?