The Brief History of Brushing and Flossing

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Have you ever wondered how people took care of their teeth before the invention of the modern toothbrush? Did they brush with a primitive brush or did they chew on leaves perhaps? Did you ever wonder if some of those traditional methods had a better and more efficient cleaning and protective effect on our teeth?


First primitive toothbrushes were used by the Babylonians and the Egyptians around 3500-3000 BC. They made them by fraying the end of a twig. Around 1600 BC, the people of ancient China used ‘chew sticks’ to rub them against their teeth. The Assyrians were maybe not the first ones to brush their teeth, but they may be the first who wrote about it. Their medical texts from 3000 BCE mention teeth-cleaning procedures. In other sites in modern-day Iraq and Egypt toothpicks have also been found.

The bristle toothbrush is similar to the modern toothbrush. It was invented in 1498 in China. The bristles were stiff, coarse hog hairs and attached to handles made of bamboo or bone. When this toothbrush was brought to Europe from China, its design was slightly altered. The Europeans prefered softer horsehairs. Feathers were also sometimes used.

The use of ‘silver paste’, a type of amalgam, is mentioned in a medical text in China in 700. The first metal dental fillings were implanted by English surgeons in 1673. Frenchman Pierre Pauchard is often called the ‘father of modern dentistry’. In 1728 he published Le Chirurgien Dentiste (The Surgical Dentist). This book was the first to describe a comprehensive system for the practice of dentistry.

The first mass-produced toothbrush appeared in England around 1780. It was made by William Addis of Clerkenwald. The mass production of toothbrushes in the US started around 1885.

The modern toothbrush was invented in 1938 and quickly replaced the boar bristle. It was made of nylon and was invented by Dupont de Nemours. It was called Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrush. The quick adoption of the nylon toothbrush among the general population was greatly helped by the strict hygiene habits of World War II soldiers.

The electric toothbrush was invented in 1939, but the first electric toothbrush sold on the American market was Broxodent in 1960.


Egyptians were the first who were using a paste to clean their teeth, even before the invention of toothbrushes. Ancient Romans and Greeks also used toothpastes. In China and India their use also started around 500 BC.

The ingredients of those early toothpastes were very different and varied. They ranged from eggshells and crushed bones to charchoal and bark. The Chinese have over time included ginseng, herbal mints and salt to their toothpastes.

The modern toothpaste was developed in the 19th century. It contained soap, and in the 1850s chalk was included. The first toothpastes were actually powders. Then in the 1850s a new toothpaste in a jar was developed. Tubed toothpaste was invented in the 1890s.

Fluoride toothpastes were introduced in 1914 to help prevent decay. After 1945 soap was replaced by other ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulphate. Today toothpastes also contain coloring, flavoring and sweeteners to make it smooth, foamy and moist.

Dental Floss

Dental floss is a prehistoric invention. Toothpick and dental floss grooves have been found in the teeth of prehistoric people. Levi Spear Parmly, a New Orleans dentist, invented the modern dental floss. He promoted teeth flossing with a piece of silk thread in 1815. Nylon floss was developed by Dr. Charles C. Bass as a replacement for silk floss during World War II. He is also credited with making teeth flossing an important part of dental hygiene.

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