Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Invention of the Toothbrush

Amber Lemus Christian Author
Blogger: Amber Lemus

Bunches of teeth cleaning twigs- India
Photo By Harvinder Chandigarh CC BY-SA 4.0

Happy New Year everyone! As the New Year approached, I was thinking about goals or resolutions for the year, and one of them involved helping my toddler improve his oral hygiene skills. LOL. So that led me to today's topic.

Today we are delving into the history behind the toothbrush. It's another one of those unsung heroes that we don't even think about most of the time.

Since bad breath has been a concern since the beginning of time, so has oral hygiene. Ancient civilizations began coming up with ways to clean the teeth, or at least mask the foul smells that can arise from poor oral hygiene.

Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cultures seem to have been the first to employ a tool to clean teeth. They chewed on twigs or sticks from particular trees. These ancient toothbrushes were referred to as chew sticks and were often flavored with natural astringents like salt or a specific kind of plant extract. Some of these chew sticks have been found in Egyptian tombs, so apparently, they believed that bad breath still exists in the afterlife.

Chewsticks are still popular in some cultures today. In the Islamic world, the use of chew sticks called miswaks are considered a pious action and are prescribed to be used before prayer five times per day.

Miswak Sticks
By Iqbal Osman - Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Bristled toothbrushes didn't appear until the 15th century. Chinese inventors created a toothbrush that had hog bristles fastened to a handle. Some of these handles were made from tiger bone. Which leaves this author wondering about what the significance of that was, and about the person whose occupation was to kill tigers to harvest their bones for things like...toothbrushes.

Song dynasty (960–1279) toothbrush handles made of tiger bone
By Aldermanseven - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

In the 17th and 18th centuries, this style of toothbrush traveled to Europe and gained popularity. However, the modern toothbrush as we know it today did not exist until the late 18th century. The inventor of this modern marvel will surprise you.

Toothbrush said to have been used by Napoleon with horsehair bristles. c 1795
Photo By Science Museum London / Science and Society Picture Library CC BY-SA 2.0

It was the late 18th century. An Englishman named William Addis landed in jail for inciting a riot. Since he had plenty of time on his hands, and a need for improved hygiene in prison, he put his mind to work on a way to clean his teeth. According to the legend, he saved a small animal bone from his meal and carved it into handle. Next, he drilled holes into it, inserted boar bristles he obtained from a guard, and held them in place with either wire or glue. After he got out of prison in 1780, Addis started mass-producing his contraption. They became popular and Addis died a wealthy man, leaving his toothbrush manufacturing company to his son. It stayed in the family all the way up to 1996.

In 1938 the DuPont company developed the first toothbrush with nylon fibers. Nylon was sturdier and more efficient than animal bristles. But in the United States, at least, brushing one's teeth regularly didn't become a widespread practice until after WWII when soldiers returned home indoctrinated with military hygiene habits.

As a Colorado native, I can't end this article without mentioning that the electric toothbrush was first invented in the early 20th century by a Colorado-based dentist, Dr. Scott H. Forbes. However, it was not until the 1960s that the electric toothbrush became more widely available and popular.

What kind of toothbrush do you like to use?

Are you setting any goals or resolutions for 2024? I'd love to hear them.


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at http://www.amberlemus.com/ and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for posting and Happy New Year. I hadn't heard of a natural bristle toothbrush. I will take nylon or whatever the synthetic is, thank you. And I prefer a wide head.

    1. Haha, I'm with you, Connie. The thought of putting animal bristled toothbrushes inside my mouth grosses me out.
      Happy New Year to you!