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Posts tagged ‘hygiene’

23. Cleaning teeth through the ages

By Emily Redican-Bradford (efr27@cam.ac.uk)

The first ‘toothbrush’ is thought to have been invented in China in the 1400s, when bristles from the necks of pigs were fixed onto bone or bamboo handles.[1] Before that, twigs were chewed on or split to form brushes and different flavours were used for freshening breath. The ‘modern toothbrush’ was invented by William Addis, who, whilst in prison in c.1780 in England, decided to improve on the traditional rag method used to clean teeth at the time.[2] He carved a handle from a bone, proceeded to make little holes in it and then attached pig bristles onto it. When he left prison, Addis began producing toothbrushes and they were manufactured in England and aboard. More expensive designs were soon expected for the wealthy, with Napoleon Bonaparte owning a brush with a silver gilt handle and horsehair bristles.[3] It was H.N Wadsworth in 1857 who received the first patent for a toothbrush and, in 1938, the first nylon fibre brushes were made.[4]

Image: Napoleon’s toothbrush, c. 1790-1821, made available under a Creative Commons licence.

References:

[1] Valerie Strauss, ‘Ever wondered how people cleaned their teeth before they had toothbrushes?’ The Washington Post (2009).

[2] Museum of Everyday Life, ‘Prison, Suicide and the Cold Climate Hog’.

[3] Science Museum, London ‘Napoleon’s Toothbrush, Europe, 1790-1821’, Wellcome Collection.

[4] Museum of Everyday Life, ‘Prison, Suicide and the Cold Climate Hog’ and Made Up In Britain, ‘Tootbrush’.