Dental care has evolved significantly over the hundreds and thousands of years humans have been taking care of their teeth. Before modern toothbrushes and toothpaste, which contains fluoride and pleasant flavors, humans still had to find a way to keep their teeth clean and breath fresh. From the beginning, people have tried many different ways to answer the question about how to best keep the mouth clean.
When Did People Start Brushing Their Teeth?
Dental hygiene has taken many forms over the course of human history, but at what point did people start using tools to clean their teeth? There is evidence that humans were using brush-like implements as early as 3000 B.C. in Egypt. This kind of brush was simple. Fraying the end of a soft reed or stick would create bristles that could be used to scrub the teeth with relative efficacy.
Over time, brushes became more, well, brush-like. In the 15th century, the Chinese used animal hairs attached to pieces of bone to create reusable tools for cleaning. Initially made with boar hair for its stiffness, and when it was brought to Europe, these bushes used horse hair for a softer brush. As the practice of using these kinds of brushes became more widespread, the techniques and designs became more sophisticated. By the 1800s, brushes were using different densities of fiber to offer the most comprehensive cleaning possible at the time.
When Dupont created the first nylon brush in the mid 20th century, it was a revolution of sorts. Up until that point, animal fibers were still being used for dental hygiene. The invention of nylon bristles and a consistent method of production furthered access to healthy oral practices. Eventually, technology created the electric toothbrush, making it even easier to get the clean smile so many people were hoping for.
What About Toothpaste?
Toothpaste has been around even longer than brushes. Starting as far back as around 5000 BC, Egyptians were leading the pack again by using powders made of mixtures of coarse abrasive materials mixed with saliva. These were used to scrape food matter and make the mouth smell cleaner, not unlike the current types of toothpaste we have today. The use of tooth powder continued through the centuries, and even persists today.
The invention of actual toothpaste is charted to the mid 19th century. In 1873, Colgate began to market a paste-form cleaner in a jar. This was the start of a shift that would continue until the jars turned to tubes along the lines of what we use today.
Ingredients stayed relatively consistent, with additions to make the toothpaste smell and taste better. A big development was the removal of soaps from the formula in 1945. It makes sense; you use soap to clean things, and you want clean teeth right? It was found that this could be switched out for other better ingredients.
In the last 70 years or so, great strides have been made to improve the quality and efficacy of toothpaste. We now have specialized toothpastes that help with dental sensitivity, strengthen enamel, and varying compositions for different oral needs. These advances made treating issues like gingivitis and plaque buildup easier for dentists.
Modern Dental Care
Modern dental care is so different from the practices of centuries past, they’re almost not even in the same ballpark. While modern dental implants, dentures, and fillings are designed to be hygienic and blend with your current teeth, this was not always the case. Everyone has heard the story about George Washington’s teeth being made of wood, but this isn’t actually true. In fact George’s teeth (along with many other people’s implants) were made using animal teeth and bone. In some cases, dentures from this time period even used teeth from other people! These teeth discolored and smelled terrible, leaving much to be desired in the hygiene department. At least they still had a full smile!
We’ve Come A Long Way
Modern day toothpastes and brushes are so far beyond what we started with thousands of years ago, that it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to go back. Imagine brushing your teeth with sticks or chewing a paste made from oyster shells—gross! Luckily, with these modern means of maintaining a healthy smile and mouth, you won’t have to do anything like that any time soon! The key to maintaining proper oral health is to take care of your teeth at home and also regularly visit your dentist. Modern dentistry is the culmination of thousands of years of work and advancement, so take advantage of it!