John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press

Where Did The Toothbrush Come From? Iraq And China?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing the teeth twice daily and using the dental floss or interdental cleaner once a day. The interesting question is how did the present day toothbrush evolve?

As early as 3500 BC, the Babylonians, residing in present-day southern Iraq, originated the "chewingsticks." Ancient Greek and Roman literature discussed primitive toothpicks that were chewed to help clean teeth. Around 1600 BC, Chinese literature described the use of aromatic twigs that were chewed into a softened, brush-like configuration on one end and left sharp on the other end for use as a tooth pick.

According to a Library of Congress website, the Chinese originated the use of a toothbrush with pig bristles the 1490's, during the reign of the Hongzhi Emperor (1487–1505) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

An Englishman, William Addis of Clerkenald, around 1870, manufactured brushes with handles carved out of bone of cattle and natural bristles were placed in bored holes at the end. These bristles were obtained from necks and a shoulder of swine's whose natural habitat was Siberia and China.

An American, H. Wadsworth, obtained a patent for a toothbrush in the 1800's. Another toothbrush with 3 rows of bristles was patented by Dr. Meyer L. Rhein. The Florence Company of Massachusetts mass produced the Pro-phy-lac-tic brush in the USA in 1885.

Synthetic bristles replaced natural swine bristles in the late 1930's. The first real electric toothbrush was produced in 1939 in Switzerland. In 1960 Squibb marketed the Broxodent, and GE introduced a cordless toothbrush in 1961. In 1987 Interplak became the first rotary toothbrush.

Until the end of WW II, Americans did not regularly brush their teeth. It was not until American GI's returned home with the enforced habit of tooth brushing that the American population as a whole adopted the concept that it is beneficial to form the habit of brushing teeth on a daily basis.

Now the recommendation of the ADA is that everyone brush their teeth at least twice a day and use floss or interdental cleaner at least one a day. Rinsing with an ADA-accepted anti-bacterial mouth rinses is further recommended to control bacterial growth and plaque formation associated with gingivitis or gum disease. The ADA continues to recommend that everyone see their dentist at least twice a year.

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