A Brief History of the Toothbrush

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— Americans voted the toothbrush as the number one most important invention in their lives, ahead of the car and TV.

As a dental health professional, I’ve long joked that if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said the word “toothbrush,” I’d be on the Forbes 400 by now. In fact, according to a 2003 survey, Americans voted the toothbrush as the number one most important invention in their lives, ahead of the car and TV. That was before teenagers were glued to their iPhones, but still—the creation of the toothbrush was game-changing for humanity.

The Pharaoh and the Willow Branch

The world’s first toothbrush appeared around 3000 B.C., when ancient Egyptians used twigs and tree branches (!) as rudimentary tools to clean their mouths and teeth. When archaeologists explored the tombs inside the ancient pyramids, they found preserved willow branches—perhaps the pharaohs’ makeshift toothbrushes?

Hog’s Hair and Coal Dust

Fast forward a few thousand years to 1498 A.D., when the Ming-dynasty Chinese started brushing their teeth using hog hair attached to a bamboo or animal bone handle. This creative contraption closely resembled the modern toothbrush, although hog’s hair wasn’t nearly as effective as nylon bristles for removing plaque or food debris. Meanwhile, the Europeans took a more drastic approach: they scrubbed their teeth with rags, using a combination of salt and coal or brick dust as toothpaste – nothing more invigorating than the dusty-fresh feeling in the morning! 

Mass Production of the Manual Brush

In 1770, a British man named William Addis took inspiration from the Ming Chinese invention and started mass producing manual toothbrushes using boar’s hair as bristles and animal bones as handles. Addis later became the founder of Wisdom Toothbrushes, an oral-care brand that still operates in the U.K. today.

Boar’s hair remained the go-to for oral care until 1938, when American chemicals company DuPont introduced the nylon-bristled, plastic-handled toothbrush we know today. Soldiers returning from WWII brought home the disciplined practice of brushing their teeth daily—a hygiene order enforced to keep them healthy and ready for battle—and the practice quickly spread across American households in the 1940s.

Power to the People

Electricity was brought into the teeth-cleaning equation in 1954, when the first powered toothbrush, Broxodent, was conceived in Switzerland by a dentist named Dr. Philippe-Guy Woog. The Broxodent brush was initially marketed as an aid for people with braces or motor-skills challenges. But by 2019, an estimated 130 million Americians used electric toothbrushes as part of their daily oral hygiene routine.

Meet Willo, the First Automated Smart Toothbrush for Kids

Like many previous inventors who contributed to the 5,000-year evolution of the toothbrush, French dentist Dr. Jean-Marie wanted to bring a new, better teeth-cleaning experience to the masses. Humans are, well, human, so they make mistakes and often miss spots while brushing their teeth—especially small humans. But what if there was a way to eliminate those errors entirely?, Jean-Marie thought. So he set out to completely redesign the toothbrush, and ten years later, Willo was born.

Voted by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2020, our smart toothbrush cuts down on user error and safely, consistently cleans every surface of the teeth—with the press of a button! Willo’s automated system is perfect for children who struggle to reach every tooth when brushing on their own, and sets your child up for a lifetime of healthy habits and sparkly smiles.