A toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth, gums, and tongue. It consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles, atop of which toothpaste can be applied, mounted on a handle which facilitates the cleaning of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. They should be used in conjunction with something to clean between the teeth where the bristles of the toothbrush cannot reach - for example floss, tape or interdental brushes.
Because many common and effective ingredients in toothpaste are harmful if swallowed in large doses and instead should be spat out, the act of brushing teeth is most often done at a sink within the kitchen or bathroom, where the brush may be rinsed off afterwards to remove any debris remaining and then dried to reduce conditions ideal for germ growth (and, if it is a wooden toothbrush, mold as well).
Many toothbrushes have plant based handles, often bamboo. However, numerous others are made of cheap plastic; such brushes constitute a significant source of pollution. Over 1 billion toothbrushes are disposed of into landfills annually in the United States alone. Bristles are commonly made of nylon (which, while not biodegradable, as plastic is, may still be recycled) or bamboo viscose.
Before the invention of the toothbrush, a variety of oral hygiene measures had been used. 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 while the other end was used as a toothpick. The earliest chew sticks were discovered in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia in 3500 BC, an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC, 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: "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.
The first bristle toothbrush resembling the modern one was found in China. Used during the Tang Dynasty (619–907), it consisted of hog bristles. 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. 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. It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century. 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. Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes imported from China too firm and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes made from horsehair. Mass-produced toothbrushes made with horse or boar bristle continued to be imported to Britain from China until the mid 20th century.
In the UK, William Addis is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. 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. Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristles were used for cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair for the more expensive ones.
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Check out our lightened version of the classic appetizer, Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Bet you can't tell the difference!
- 2 (6-ounce) packages fresh baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 (8-ounce) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1/2 cup light sour cream
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided