history of toothbrushing

The History of Toothbrushing

history of toothbrushing


Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert knows that brushing our teeth is something we all take for granted. From childhood to old age, we practice the habit without even thinking twice. But it has not always been that way. In fact, daily brushing and flossing are relatively recent arrivals on the health scene. What did we do before the toothbrush, and how did the practice of brushing develop?

Ancient history

The first toothbrush probably was used over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians and Babylonians back then used frayed twigs to clean their teeth. They undoubtedly had toothpicks also, because skeletal remains from that time show no evidence of tooth decay. More on that later…

Around 1600 BC, the Chinese used sticks made from twigs of aromatic trees to freshen their breath. They chewed these sticks as we would chew gum. Listerine was not even a tingle at that time.

Modern history

Toothbrushing became common in Europe in the 17th century, hundreds of years after contact with the Muslim world where tooth decay was rare. The Arabs had been using twigs from the Salvadora tree as a natural toothbrush, and the Europeans slowly adopted the practice as they realized its benefits.

The first modern toothbrush was invented in 1780 by William Addis, an English prisoner with time on his hands. He drilled holes in a sheep’s leg bone and pulled boar’s hairs through. Crude, but effective. In 19th century America, it was common for a family to share a single toothbrush of this kind. Hooray for modern manufacturing!

By the early 1900’s, only 7% of Americans brushed their teeth regularly. Tooth decay was such a problem by World War I, that army doctors considered it a national health crisis. The big breakthrough came in the 1930s when Claude Hopkins began to sell a mint flavored powder called Pepsodent. Advertised as a product for improving oral hygiene, Pepsodent became a huge commercial success. Thanks to Hopkins and his clever advertising, the habit of daily brushing quickly caught on and spread around the world. Today, we have entire industries built around the desire for a brighter smile.

What changed?

We mentioned earlier that ancient people groups had very little tooth decay. The main reasons have to do with diet. Highly refined sugars, processed food, sweet baked goods, and fizzy drinks are recent additions to our modern diet. They not only break down tooth enamel and invite dental and gum disease, but they are very detrimental to our overall health. When we can control what we eat and choose wisely, we will find that we are on our way to a healthier lifestyle.


At Lifetime Family Dental, we strive to fix dental problems. But our real passion is preventative dental care. That’s why we promote healthy eating and drinking, daily brushing and flossing, and twice-yearly cleanings and checkups. Is it time for your checkup? Call us today to schedule an appointment. There’s a free toothbrush in it just for you!



Images used under creative commons license (Commerical Use) 10/17/19 Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst