The idea of brushing teeth is ingrained into everyday life. For most, they may not remember learning to brush or floss their teeth. But modern oral hygiene did not come fully formed but evolved bit by bit. Leading high street dentists often have specialised staff like a hygienist Richmond focused entirely on prevention that comes with this area of dental care.
The first toothbrush
The first toothbrush can go back to the stone age (palaeolithic), where small twigs were chewed as single-use brushes to scrape off plaque. This seemed to work well but could have been at the detriment to gum health with the high risk of splinters. What was more common was simplistic toothpicks.
In 1400, handcrafted toothbrushes were made in China, with bristles made from pig hair with a handle of carved bone. There seemed to be a degree of stature associated with these brushes with some being smooth and plain while others are very ornately decorated and cross-hatched to improve grip.
These brushes were found on the silk road to Europe, leading to William Addis’s 1780’s patented toothbrush. Formal patenting along with the mass production capacity of the Industrial revolution allowed the toothbrush to become a part of everybody’s home and regular brushing a standard.
Mass manufacturing American style
The USA started the home-grown manufacturing of toothbrushes relatively late, around 1915. But the American design relied on nylon bristles with a synthetic plastic celluloid handle, fully independent of natural materials like animal fibre or wood. Their rate of manufacture could vastly outstrip European designs, with the American-style toothbrush becoming a global norm.
So what about toothpaste?
Paste does not share the same history as the toothbrush, although they are now closely associated with each other. This was not the case with the use of cleaning paste containing some form of abrasions like salt mixed with water, animal fat or ground sugar. This has a long history. Usually, they were applied with a piece of cloth and each tooth was covered and polished in the way that you might use fine rags and brass to polish or clean metal. Many of these kinds of toothpaste was sold and stored as powders, with the user mixing a small amount of water at the point of use making them easier to transport and less likely to spoil over time.
It was only in the 1890s that toothpaste came in the form of a paste, with a mixture of antimicrobials like strong mint in a tin tube, enriched with fluoride being used as flavour.
The new kid on the block- dental floss
Dental floss is a relatively new addition to oral hygiene. It was only when the regular use of toothbrushes increased and highlighted how useful regular brushing was that flossing became popular. This occurred along with the development of dentistry as an academic field that showed the value of prevention. This is also where brushing alone showed its limitations. Nearly 40% of the tooth surface can’t be reached with a brush due to the very small gaps between teeth. Modern dental medical advice is to use waxed silk based floss to clear debris from between teeth.