Who invented the toothbrush?

Who invented the toothbrush?

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Looking for an innovative dental hygiene enthusiast to thank next time you polish your pearly whites? Turns out it’s not that simple. People have been cleaning their teeth for millennia, starting with the ancient Egyptians, who are thought to have scrubbed their choppers with a special powder made from ox hooves and eggshells as far back as 5000 B.C. The Romans opted for sticks with frayed ends, while the Greeks used rough cloths. About 800 years ago, the Chinese began fashioning proto-toothbrushes by attaching coarse animal hairs to bamboo or ivory handles; during the Middle Ages, travelers brought these devices to Europe.

Fast-forward to the late 18th century, when an Englishman named William Addis landed in jail for inciting a riot. To while away the time—and freshen up in the process—he carved a bone handle, drilled holes into it and inserted boar bristles that were held in place by wire. Addis starting mass-producing his contraption after leaving prison and died a wealthy man. In 1938 the DuPont company developed the first toothbrush with nylon fibers, which proved sturdier and more efficient than animal hairs. But in the United States, at least, it wasn’t until soldiers returned home from World War II indoctrinated with military hygiene habits that brushing one’s teeth regularly became a widespread practice.

Prison, Suicide, & the Cold-Climate Hog

A typical chew stick. This one is from the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice)

The first bristle toothbrush was invented by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty (619-907) and was most likely made from the coarse hairs of the cold-climate hog. Hogs living in Siberia and Northern China grew very stiff hair in response to the harsh climate, yielding a sturdy bristle material. Bristles were inserted into tiny holes made in bone or bamboo. The use of the instrument to clean teeth by Northern Chinese monks was documented in writing in 1223 by Dōgen Kigen , a Japanese Zen master traveling in China.

The use of a miswak, or chew stick, has been an important practice throughout the Islamic world, and is considered a pious action. The miswak is made from the Salvadora persica tree (known as arak in Arabic ), and is commonly used in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Central and Southeast Asia. As specified in the hadith , the miswak should be used before prayer, before entering one’s house, before and after going on a journey, on Fridays, before sleeping, after waking up, when experiencing hunger or thirst, and before entering any good gathering.

A typical contemporary miswak from Pakistan

Salvadora persica (known in some parts of the world as “the toothbrush tree”) is a powerful plant with many documented pharmacological properties. In laboratory tests, stem and leaf decoctions of Salvadora persica provided significant protective action against ethanol and stress-induced ulcers, reduced cholesterol and LDL plasma levels, and inhibited oral bacteria and plaque growth. A wide variety of traditional uses of the plant in many health remedies is reported in all of the regions in which it is found. However, there are also hints of some darker uses of the toothbrush tree. The bark, stems and leaves have a chemical anti-convulsant property which increases in potency when concentrated and aged, producing a powerful paralytic that can act as a hallucinogen and has even been used to kill unsuspecting enemies.


Despite its long history in China, it took many centuries for the bristle toothbrush to arrive in Europe. During this time, Europeans generally cleaned their teeth by rubbing them with rags rolled in salt or soot. An English rag merchant named William Addis is generally credited with the “invention” of the modern Western toothbrush, in the year 1780. In this oft-cited legend, Addis became involved in a dispute that got out of control, and was thrown into Newgate prison, charged with starting a riot. Languishing in a dark and dank jail cell, Addis had time on his hands, and a foul-tasting mouth. The story has it that he spied a broom in a corner of a room, and was struck with inspiration. Retrieving a bone from the jail cell floor, he somehow drilled holes into it and obtained bristles from a sympathetic jailer. Under these trying circumstances, his invention was born.

Early 19th century bone toothbrushes dug out of a garbage dump in Scotland.

After his release from prison, Addis produced a number of toothbrushes made from horsehair and bone, and began selling them in London. The popularity of the toothbrush in England grew parallel to the rise in availability and use of refined sugar, imported from the West Indies. Addis’ toothbrush enterprise expanded into a prosperous business, which was then taken over by his son. According to one source, by 1840 the Addis company employed 60 workers and produced four models of toothbrushes: Gents, Ladies, Child’s and Tom Thumb. The company, Wisdom Toothbrush/Addis Housewares, still exists today.


By the 1840s toothbrushes were being mass-produced across Europe, but the first U.S. patent for a toothbrush wasn’t filed until 1857, by H.N. Wadsworth (US Patent No. 18,653). In the eloquent text accompanying his patent application, Wadsworth explains the innovations in design that make his invention patent-worthy:

The nature of my invention consists in separating the bunches of bristles more than in the common brush, so as to give more elasticity and enable them to enter between the interstices of the teeth – having the brush wide that it may be imperative on the part of the patient to brush the gums thoroughly the brush is partly circular from heel to point the more readily to fit the circle or arch formed by the teeth, and from side to side the bristles are a little concave the more readily to adapt themselves to the oval form of the teeth toward the point the bristles are shorter and intended to project as far as possible beyond the end and at as acute an angle as possible, while the back of bone ivory or other material is thin and rounded off so as to occupy as little room as possible, and forming almost a projecting point of bristles, particularly intended to force its Way far back in the mouth between the muscles of the cheeks, and jaws, and the back or molar teeth, and thoroughly free them from impurities, and while it keeps the teeth in these places clean, and highly polished, it also keeps the gums healthy and vigorous.

Wadsworth toothbrush patent

In 1935 at DuPont chemical company, a brilliant chemist named Wallace Carothers headed up a research team that invented the super-polymer which eventually became known as nylon. The replacement of animal-hair bristles with nylon bristles would revolutionize toothbrush manufacture. Nylon, of course, would have countless industrial applications in years to come. Tragically, Carothers saw himself and his life’s work at DuPont as a failure. Haunted by depression, he committed suicide by swallowing a solution laced with cyanide in 1937, just two years after his discovery of nylon.


The invention of nylon bristles allowed for simpler, cheaper mass-production of a toothbrush less likely to harbor and grow harmful bacteria than the traditional animal bristle brush. Yet the use of the toothbrush was not popularized in the United States until soldiers returning from WWII brought this habit home, adopting the daily dental hygiene regimen that had been required in the army.

Unidentified woman in post-war France photographed by an American soldier she later married and accompanied to Gardener, New Jersey. Found with letters and a box of photos in a recycling center in upstate New York.

In January 2003 the Lemelson-MIT survey asked participants to rank items on a list of inventions including the automobile, the personal computer, the cellular phone, the microwave and the toothbrush. The toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without.


Before the invention of the toothbrush, a variety of oral hygiene measures had been used. [6] This has been verified by excavations during which tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills were recovered.

The predecessor of the toothbrush is the chew stick. Chew sticks were twigs with frayed ends used to brush the teeth [7] while the other end was used as a toothpick. [8] The earliest chew sticks were discovered in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia in 3500 BC, [8] an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC, [7] and mentioned in Chinese records dating from 1600 BC.

The Indian way of using tooth wood for brushing is presented by the Chinese Monk Yijing (635–713 CE) when he describes the rules for Monks in his book: [9] "Every day in the morning, a monk must chew a piece of tooth wood to brush his teeth and scrape his tongue, and this must be done in the proper way. Only after one has washed one’s hands and mouth may one make salutations. Otherwise both the saluter and the saluted are at fault.

In Sanskrit, the tooth wood is known as the dantakastha—danta meaning tooth, and kastha, a piece of wood. It is twelve finger-widths in length. The shortest is not less than eight finger-widths long, resembling the little finger in size. Chew one end of the wood well for a long while and then brush the teeth with it."

The Greeks and Romans used toothpicks to clean their teeth, and toothpick-like twigs have been excavated in Qin Dynasty tombs. [8] Chew sticks remain common in Africa, [10] the rural Southern United States, [7] and in the Islamic world the use of chewing stick miswak is considered a pious action and has been prescribed to be used before every prayer five times a day. [11] Miswaks have been used by Muslims since the 7th century. [ citation needed ] Twigs of Neem Tree have been used by ancient Indians. [12] [13] Neem, in its full bloom, can aid in healing by keeping the area clean and disinfected. In fact, even today, Neem twigs called datun are used for brushing teeth in India, although not hugely common. [14]

The first bristle toothbrush resembling the modern one was found in China. Used during the Tang Dynasty (619–907), it consisted of hog bristles. [15] [16] The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. [7] In 1223, Japanese Zen master Dōgen Kigen recorded in his Shōbōgenzō that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horsetail hairs attached to an oxbone handle. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought from China to Europe by travellers. [17] It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century. [18] The earliest identified use of the word toothbrush in English was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood who wrote in 1690 that he had bought a toothbrush from J. Barret. [19] Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes imported from China too firm and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes made from horsehair. [7] Mass-produced toothbrushes made with horse or boar bristle continued to be imported to Britain from China until the mid 20th century. [6]

In the UK, William Addis is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. [17] [20] In 1770, he had been jailed for causing a riot. While in prison he decided that using a rag with soot and salt on the teeth was ineffective and could be improved. After saving a small bone from a meal, he drilled small holes into the bone and tied into the bone tufts of bristles that he had obtained from one of the guards, passed the tufts of bristle through the holes in the bone and sealed the holes with glue. After his release, he became wealthy after starting a business manufacturing toothbrushes. He died in 1808, bequeathing the business to his eldest son. It remained within family ownership until 1996. [21] Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. [22] By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. [23] Pig bristles were used for cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair for the more expensive ones. [23]

Hertford Museum in Hertford, UK, holds approximately 5000 brushes that make up part of the Addis Collection. The Addis factory on Ware Road was a major employer in the town until 1996. Since the closure of the factory, Hertford Museum has received photographs and documents relating to the archive, and collected oral histories from former employees. [24]

The first patent for a toothbrush was granted to H.N. Wadsworth in 1857 (U.S.A. Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States did not start until 1885. The improved design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Unfortunately, animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retained bacteria, did not dry efficiently and the bristles often fell out. In addition to bone, handles were made of wood or ivory. [25] In the United States, brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily. [20]

During the 1900s, celluloid gradually replaced bone handles. [15] Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was invented in Switzerland in 1954. [26] By the turn of the 21st century nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles and the handles were usually molded from thermoplastic materials. [6]

Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical supplies firm, introduced the "Reach" toothbrush in 1977. [27] It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing) materials and the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles. Other manufacturers soon followed with other designs aimed at improving effectiveness. [28] In spite of the changes with the number of tufts and the spacing, the handle form and design, the bristles were still straight and difficult to maneuver. In 1978 Dr. George C. Collis developed the Collis Curve toothbrush which was the first toothbrush to have curved bristles. The curved bristles follow the curvature of the teeth and safely reach in between the teeth and into the sulcular areas. [29]

In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. [30]

Toys and Spinning Brushes: How John Osher Found His Way to Profits

John Osher holds out his battery-powered toothbrush. It’s encased in clear plastic as if it has just been pulled from the rack at a drug store. “See, you press it here, and it spins.” He demonstrates, and inside the package, the round head whirs like a tiny buzz saw. “We did that so people could try it in the store. It had to have a Try Me feature.” Osher and several partners developed the SpinBrush in 1999 and then, in 2001, sold it to Procter & Gamble for $475 million. It was the first low-cost, mass-marketed mechanical toothbrush.

Osher, 56, is a person to whom the overworked term “entrepreneur” actually applies. He has rarely worked for anyone else and never looked for a job. “I wouldn’t know how,” he says. “I don’t even have a business card.” Instead, he has made a career out of starting and selling companies—for increasingly large troves of cash. The SpinBrush is among the latest of his inexpensive but ingenious devices. As Osher likes to say, he specializes in devising products not for the rich but for people who shop at Wal-Mart “because there are a lot more of them.” Last month, he spent two days at Wharton as an entrepreneur-in-residence, counseling students on how to pursue their dreams of self employment and, if they’re lucky, riches.

Osher’s own career path zigged and zagged. He jokes that it began, at age 5, in pornography. His parents — Dad was a surgeon mom, a writer — took a painting course at the local art museum in his hometown of Cincinnati , and the curriculum including painting nudes. At the semester’s end, they stashed their works in the attic. Osher charged his friends a nickel each to see them. Later, he sold defective squirt guns for a dime each.

Higher education came in fits and starts Osher took seven years to complete college. He tried two other schools before graduating from Boston University with a degree in psychology in 1971. Along the way, he managed to start two stores — one that peddled antique clothing and another that sold earrings. After graduation, he sold the shops and moved to a commune in Amity, N.Y. It was built around the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, an early 20 th century Armenian mystic. “It was kind of a semi-hippie community,” he says. “This was the early 1970s.” Gurdjieff’s philosophy melded Eastern religious practices such as meditation with hard physical labor. Members were expected to learn skills, and Osher chose carpentry and plumbing.

“I learned how basic mechanics worked,” he says. “It was fascinating for somebody who grew up not having a clue. At one point, I repaired tape recorders and record players.” He also learned not to be intimidated by engineers. “They don’t scare me when they say ‘no’ so quickly. If they say they can’t do something, I can say, ‘If the gear works this way, what if we did this?’ ”

By 1978, Osher was back in Cincinnati . There, he started a company called ConServ to design and sell energy-saving devices such as insulating covers for hot-water heaters. But his itch to experiment remained. By then, he was a father, and he started tinkering with baby toys and furniture. Among his inventions was what he says was the first baby gym. It let infants play on the floor with toys suspended above them and resulted in one of the 40 patents that he owns. “It was called Rainbow Toy Bars. We used white plumbing pipe and put these rainbow decals on them.” Osher sold ConServ to Gerber in 1985 but agreed to stay on to design products. That lasted a year and a half. “I realized I was vice president in charge of nothing. I went on vacation for two weeks and came back, and my in box was empty.” So he quit.

The baby gym’s success made him think toys were a fertile field for a new venture. He raised money from family and friends to start CAP (originally Child at Play) Toys. “I figured I’d never run out of ideas.” Plus, he could test his notions on his kids and their friends. “There were times when I embarrassed my kids — I’d pull out a toy and show it to their friends at the ball field or something.” CAP nearly closed its first year when its first product — a blooming doll in a flowerpot — flopped. That underscored for Osher what he says is the key to entrepreneurship — finding a way to survive. “If I wrote a book, that’s what it would be called “Finding a Way”.

[email protected] High School

“I had three students come to talk to me today. They’d gotten permission to start a coffee shop on campus and were having all sorts of problems and were pretty discouraged. I told them, ‘You have to find a way to make it happen. If you want to own your own business, that’s the most valuable lesson this school can teach you.’”

After CAP’s disastrous first year, Osher found a way by persuading his investors to pony up more money. Their risk paid off. By his second year, he had a hit toy. CAP’s Arcade Basketball hoop hung from the back of a door and kept score. CAP also developed the Stretch Armstrong doll and, more important, the Spin Pop, a lollipop with a battery-operated handle that twirled the candy in the eater’s mouth.

The Spin Pop and the Spin Brush might seem opposites a magazine profile of Osher joked that his toothbrush solved the problem that his lollipop created. But the lollipop was the roadmap for the toothbrush. It, too, employed small gears and had to be handheld, inexpensive and battery-operated.

Osher sold CAP to Hasbro in 1997 for $120 million. Mainly, he says, the big toy company wanted the candy division, which by then had sales of $70 million a year. He took a year and a half off and then persuaded a group of designers he’d worked with on the Spin Pop to join him in a new venture. He wasn’t sure what exactly they would make, only that it had to appeal to the mass market.

Osher doesn’t invent all his products. Sometimes, he acquires an invention that is in its early stages and develops it. That is what he did with the Spin Pop, which was invented by four postal workers. But he is always searching for interesting ideas or unfilled niches. “I live in a posture of looking,” he says. “I compare it to somebody who writes jokes. They see jokes where other people don’t. They might look at that book over there and get inspired to write a joke.”

Osher rejects far more ideas than he embraces. “I’ve probably made just as much money discriminating against bad products as I have picking good ones. You see so many people who’ve done successful products who give so much of it back by doing bad ones.”

With the SpinBrush, Osher sensed an untapped market. Electric toothbrushes had been around for years but, at about $80 each, they were too expensive for many buyers. Plus, Osher and his partners knew that they could employ the same sort of technology they had used on the Spin Pop.

“Our advantage was that we were trying to design up from 80 cents, while everybody else was trying to design down from $79.” To succeed, the product could cost only a few dollars more than a conventional toothbrush and had to have a long-lasting battery. And its packaging had to have the Try Me feature. That amounted to free advertising and could win over skeptics.

In 1999, Osher and his partners formed a company called Dr. Johns Products and, later that year, rolled out the brushes in a chain of Midwestern stores called Meijers. They quickly caught on. Procter & Gamble, based in Osher’s hometown, soon came calling. The deal Osher and his associates struck allowed them to join the company for a year to ensure that their invention was properly launched.

“P&G is a master of managing mature products, and their systems work for that,” Osher explains. “They don’t work for an entrepreneurial venture.” Initially, for example, P&G managers wanted to halt production for four months to allow time to build inventory. “Their rules required them to have something like 90 days worth of inventory in their warehouses at all times and to be able to supply the whole country 99% on time. But we had tremendous momentum. Consumers were clamoring for the product. If our group hadn’t been there, the supply division would’ve just said, ‘No, you can’t ship it.’”

With Osher and his partners leading the effort, SpinBrush sales grew from $44 million to $160 million a year. Today, they are about $300 million.

After helping P&G with the introduction, Osher and his team went back to developing their own products. Their next one was the Dish Doctor, a battery powered dish scrubber. They sold it to P&G, too, and the product made its debut last month. “It won’t be as big as the SpinBrush,” Osher says. “You can only sell one to every household, while with the toothbrush you could sell it to every person.”

Now, as restless as ever, Osher is already on to his next idea, though for now he’s not saying what it is. “I think it will be every bit as big as the SpinBrush. It’ll be a revolutionary product. It’ll change the marketplace.”

The first ever electric toothbrush was designed by a doctor named Phillipe Woog in Switzerland in 1969. It was primarily designed for people with orthodontics and people with limited motor skills who weren’t able to use a traditional toothbrush effectively.

The idea of an electric toothbrush was that it would do all the brushing motions by itself and all the patient has to do is to move it around the mouth area slowly.

Woog’s toothbrush wasn’t very popular among average consumers because it was loud, clumsy, and had to be connected to electricity outlet through a cable. Electric toothbrushes started getting much more traction among consumers in 1962 when an American manufacturer General Electrics designed first electric toothbrush with rechargeable battery.

Who Invented the Toothbrush? - History of Toothbrush

Toothbrush is a tool for oral hygiene. It is used to clean the teeth and gums and the most common one consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles mounted on a handle although there are other types of toothbrushes that look differently.

Since the dawn of time, people used different tools to clean teeth after meals. They used chew sticks, tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and even porcupine quills. Chew stick is considered a predecessor of a toothbrush. It was a twig with a frayed end which was used to brush against the teeth and the oldest found dated from 3500 BC and was from Babylonia. Ancient Egypt used it in 300BC and was also mentioned in Chinese records dating from 1600 BC. Chew sticks are still used in some parts of the rural South of United States and are known there as twig brushes.

First toothbrushes, resembling today’s, appeared in China during the Tang Dynasty (619–907) and were made out of hog bristle and had a handle made of bamboo or bone. Toothbrushes came to Europe in 17th century and were almost entirely imported from China but those made from hog bristle were too to firm and those made from horsehair sold better. Europe imported toothbrushes from China until the mid-20th century.

The first mass-produced toothbrush in Europe was made in 1780. It was made in England by one William Addis. By 1840 England, France, Germany, and Japan were mass-producing toothbrushes and were using pig bristle for cheaper toothbrushes, while the badger hair was used for more expensive ones. H. N. Wadsworth was given the first patent for a toothbrush in 1857 in the United States but, for some reason, mass-production of toothbrushes in the United States didn’t start until 1885.

Toothbrushes made from natural materials were problematic because they retained bacteria and did not dry well. That is why DuPont replaced Natural animal bristles with synthetic fibers in 1938. Wooden and bone handles of the earlier model were also replaced with celluloid handles. In Switzerland in 1954 appeared the first electric toothbrush. Handles of today’s toothbrushes are mostly made from thermoplastic materials.

Except the standard toothbrush that we all have in our homes, there are also more different types. Electric toothbrush is a tooth brush that performs oscillations or rotations that are driven by a motor. An interdental brush, interproximal brush or a proxy brush has a small, narrow bristle and is used for cleaning between teeth and between the wire of dental braces and the teeth. They are made in different sizes and thicknesses. There are evidences that they remove more plaque than dental floss. An end-tufted brush has bristles shaped into an arrow and is used for cleaning along the gumline. Chewable toothbrushes are toothbrushes of a small size, have no handles and are used during travels. They often have different flavors and are disposed after use. Ecological toothbrushes are similar to standard ones but are made from biodegradable materials and/or use replaceable heads.

Do You Know The Story Behind The Invention Of The Toothbrush?

Can you imagine a life without your beloved toothbrush? After all, every morning it is the first one to greet you. But have you ever thought about that shiny stick with bristles on top? Have you ever thought about how it came into existence? Unfortunately, like every other essential thing in life, we have taken the poor toothbrush for granted.

Origin of the Toothbrush

The toothbrush’s journey started around 5000 BC in Egypt where it’s companion the all-powerful toothpaste was born. The first ancestor of the modern-day toothpaste was made from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice.

However, the earliest form of the toothbrush came into existence about another 1500 years later in Babylon and Egypt. These ancient civilizations frayed the ends of twigs and used them as tooth sticks.

Chewsticks in China

The Chinese worked upon the existing designs and gave birth to the chew stick, a rather fancy ancestor of the toothbrush. It was made from the twigs of aromatic trees, so that along with cleaning the teeth, one could freshen his mouth.

Some historical records suggest that the toothbrush had a distant relative in the 14 th century in China where monks used brushes made out of horse hair to clean their mouth.

Invention Of the Modern Day Toothbrush

The modern day toothbrush was born around 1780, in England. This creation of William Addis consisted of a cattle bone handle and swine bristles. This was a stepping stone in the revolution that the simple toothbrush was about to begin. Within a few decades, it became a household name. The discovery of Nylon in the 20 th century, which was to be used for making artificial bristles aided the toothbrush in becoming an indispensable part of people’s lives. The toothbrush became a celebrity overnight!

Today, there are hundreds of types of toothbrushes in different shapes and sizes, starting from the soft toothbrush used for kids to the highly efficient electric toothbrush. The journey that the toothbrush made from the tooth stick in 3500 BC to the electric toothbrush today is truly commendable. It has indeed come a long way.

It would thus, be unfair to deny that this simple toothbrush is an excellent scientific invention which we can’t live without.

Materials that made the toothbrush bristle in the olden days.

The bristled toothbrush came into existence during the Tang dynasty in china consisting of bristles made out of hog hair attached to a stick made of wood, bamboo or animal bone.

This bristled toothbrush design migrated to Europe along with the travelers and became a popular oral hygiene instrument although with the changes since, Europeans preferred a softer bristle made of horse hair over coarse hog hair bristles.

Sometimes the toothbrush was made of bird feathers bristle and there are evidences of even the porcupine spines being used as toothbrush bristle.

Who invented the toothbrush?

The history of oral hygiene goes back a long way, with recent archaeological finds proving that there were even Stone Age dentists.

This competition is now closed

But who invented the toothbrush? Well, it depends on your definition. To freshen their breath, the people of ancient India chewed an aromatic twig, called a dentakashta, and the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and Tudors all did something similar.

It seems the first people to actually make a toothbrush were the medieval Chinese who, in the 1400s, stitched spiky pig bristles into a bamboo or bone handle. These were brought to Europe by travelling merchants, and French physicians did briefly use them, but they didn’t catch on in Britain.

So while the Chinese can technically take all the credit, the person commonly dubbed the ‘inventor’ of the toothbrush is an 18th-century Brit.


William Addis was a professional rag-dealer in the East End of London. In 1780, he was chucked in Newgate Prison – perhaps for rioting – and it was here that inspiration struck.

The story goes that Addis whittled holes into a pig bone left over from his dinner, and threaded them with bristles from a nearby broom, thereby creating his toothbrush prototype.

When he was released from jail, he experimented with other materials and soon started selling toothbrushes with great success, as the sugar-obsessed population of Georgian Britain suffered appalling tooth decay.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed.

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Watch the video: How the Toothbrush Was Invented