How Did People Clean Their Teeth Before Toothbrushes Were Invented?
Most people today clean their teeth with brushes made of plastic and nylon. But if you had lived one hundred years ago, you probably would have used a toothbrush made of cow bone and hog bristles.
Before toothbrushes were invented, one common way of cleaning teeth was with a twig known as a chew stick. A twig was pounded on one end to form a kind of brush.
In George Washington’s day, teeth were rubbed clean with chalk and a rag. Before that, teeth were scrubbed with sheep’s wool and such gritty stuff as powdered eggshells.
The Chinese are believed to have made the first natural-bristle toothbrush in the 1400s by using bristles from pigs’ necks. The bristles were attached to a handle made of bone or bamboo.
The first toothbrush that resembles the one you use today was made in England in the 1770s. A man named William Addis came up with the idea while he was in prison, put there for having started a riot. He didn’t think the rag he was given was cleaning his teeth well enough, so he saved a small bone from a meal. He put tiny holes in it and used glue to attach pig bristles he had gotten from a prison guard.
The first patent for a toothbrush was awarded to an American named H.N. Wadsworth in 1857, but it wasn’t until the invention of nylon in the 1930s that toothbrushes came to look like the ones you use.
And it wasn’t until after World War II that Americans started brushing their teeth regularly. U.S. soldiers brought the daily habit back home with them from abroad, and that helped make the practice popular.