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The Surprising History Of The Toothbrush

Dental hygiene is anything but a modern-day concept.  Fresh breath and clean teeth have been coveted by all types of people for thousands of years!  Albeit, practice and technology have certainly changed and progressed.

What began as a “chew stick” over 5000 years ago has now become the tool universally known as the “toothbrush.”  The history of this staple of dental hygiene has a fascinating and surprising history!

The earliest-recorded predecessor to the toothbrush dates all the way back to the Babylonian Empire in 3500BC.  The Babylonians designed a twig with a frayed end, known as a “chew stick” to clean and scour the teeth.   The other end of the stick, sharpened to a point, was used as a toothpick!


Chew Stick

For nearly 4000 years, the “chew stick” was the sole method of maintaining dental hygiene…until the first “bristle brush” was developed in China during the Tang Dynasty, somewhere between 600 and 900AD.  Hog bristles were attached to bamboo or bone handles, creating a type of toothbrush!


Bristle Brush

Hundreds of years later, the bristle brush eventually made its way to Europe by way of travelers and explorers.  The first known use of the word “toothbrush” was in the autobiography of Englishman Anthony Wood in 1690.  Over time, the Europeans changed the coarse “pig bristle brush” to a softer horse hair brush.

The first mass-produced toothbrush was believed to have been manufactured in Europe by William Addis.  In 1770, Addis was imprisoned for having caused a riot.  While in prison, he tired of the modern-day method of cleaning one’s teeth: using a rag with salt and ashes to rub the teeth clean.  Saving a bone from dinner and obtaining some bristles from one of the prison guards, Addis he designed a very effective and easy-to-create modern-day toothbrush.

William Addis

Upon his release, Addis immediately built a business that mass-produced his toothbrushes and he soon became very wealthy.  His business, known as Wisdom Toothbrushes, stayed in the family until 1996!

In the 1900’s, celluloid handles eventually replaced bone handles and nylon bristles soon came to replace animal hair bristles.  It took over 5000 years of ingenuity, development, and creativity, but the end product is a tool that, if used properly and often, guarantees fresher breath, cleaner teeth, and healthier gums.


The toothbrush.  It has surely come a long way!

Here at Montgomery Dentistry, we believe in the importance of keeping your teeth and gums clean and healthy.  If you are need of a cleaning, or simply have some questions regarding your own dental health, please call us anytime…we would love to hear from you!

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Photo Credit: Header Photo

About the Author

  • Dr. Jay L. Robertson

    Dr. Jay L. Robertson

    Dr. Jay Robertson joined our practice in July 2008. He is from Montgomery and is a graduate of Saint James School, Birmingham-Southern College, and the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, the Alabama Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry.

    Dr. Robertson and his wife Jennifer have four children, John Campbell, Julian, Lowe, and Ansley.

    Dr. Robertson serves on the board of the Montgomery Quarterback Club and is a member of the First United Methodist Church of Montgomery. When not at work, Dr. Robertson enjoys all things sports, including Auburn, golf, and his children’s various sports.

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