The modern toothbrush wasn’t in existence until the 1930s. So what did people use to brush their teeth before then?
The Ancient Egyptians
As far back as 5000 BC, the Ancient Egyptians would make a powder to clean their teeth. Unfortunately for the Egyptians it was made out of ox hooves and egg shells. I wonder if their children complained about how bad it tasted?
The Ancient Chinese
The Chinese are credited with the first toothbrush. Unfortunately, it was made from bone, and the bristles came from the backs of a pig. I’m sure that felt great.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans
These ancients felt abrasiveness was more important and made a powder of crushed bones and oyster shells. The Romans tried to spruce it up a bit with some flavorings to help with bad breath, but I’m not sure how effective it was.
…But…that was a LONG time ago. Surely as you get closer to our time things weren’t so bad.
Hygiene in general was a struggle for the Tudors, but even they knew that it was important to clean their teeth. Generally it was done with a cloth after rubbing some substance on their teeth. Sometimes it was soot from the chimney. Other times they used a homemade powder. Here is one recipe they had for Mouse Head Tooth Powder. “First catch some mice. Cut off their heads. Cook them in a pan until they are burned. Pound them into a gritty powder. Then use the powder to clean your teeth.”
On the bright side, they would chew on herbs to freshen their breath.
The Edwardian Period
The more modern Edwardians had indeed graduated from ox hooves and mice heads. They would rub their teeth with “tooth powder”, a mixture of salt and bicarbonate of soda, using twigs.
It wasn’t until 1938 that we had a modern version of toothbrush. The DuPont company decided to use nylon bristles attached to a handle.
Though it’s only been around for 70+ years, I must say one of the things I am grateful for is a modern toothbrush and toothpaste.
Dr. Mike Malone and his team practice expert cosmetic dentistry in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Malone is the former president and current accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also the official Cosmetic Dentist of the Miss Louisiana USA and Miss Louisiana Teen USA pageants.