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Dental History & Fun Facts

Do you know how far dental products have come over years?

Toothbrush Origins

In 4000 B.C., the first people to use a toothbrush were the Hindus of India who used the end of a fresh twig, which was frayed into fibers. The Babylonians in 3500 B.C. called their toothbrush a "chewing stick."

A toothbrush made of hog bristles was used in China in 1600. In 1780, William Addis of England invented a toothbrush with a handle made from cattle bone and bristles made from pig.

The toothbrush, as we know it today, was invented in 1857 by an American named H.N. Wadsworth. This was followed by a patented three-row toothbrush of jagged bristles with larger clusters created by Dr. Meyer Rhein. It wasn't until 1938 that nylon bristled brushes with plastic handles were invented. The nylon bristles were less harsh to the teeth and gums. In recent history, the electric toothbrush was produced in the United States in 1960.

While history shows that people used early toothbrushes to clean their teeth, daily tooth brushing habits were not talked about as a public health issue until the end of World War II.

Toothpaste Origins

People is China and India were known to use toothpaste as early as 500 B.C. Ancient toothpastes were abrasive and not as hygienic. Some were made from ashes, pumice, and burnt eggshells. In 1824, a dentist named Dr. Peabody added soap to toothpaste. Other compounds, like chalk and flavorings, were added during the 1850s. In 1892, Dr. Washington Sheffield created the collapsible tube dispenser. After World War II, other agents were used, ultimately resulting in the addition of fluoride.

Dental Floss Origins

Dental floss-like substances have been found in the teeth of early pre-humans and Native Americans. A New Orleans dentist named Levi Spear Parmly made dental floss from a thin thread of silk in 1815. Unwaxed silk floss was not produced until 1882. In 1896, the Johnson & Johnson Company released dental floss made from silk surgical sutures. After World War II, a medical doctor named Dr. Charles Bass believed that nylon had advantages over silk floss. Nylon had a greater resistance, could be produced in larger amounts and could have consistent diameters. Dental floss remains a critical component for maintaining good oral health today.

Ancient Beliefs About Tooth Decay

There are several ancient theories about the cause of tooth decay. Queen Elizabeth I was known to have discolored teeth. Paul Henter, a German traveler, believed that the excessive consumption of sugar may have discolored her teeth. Before 1960, Americans believed that a tooth worm, which either appeared spontaneously or bored its way into the tooth, caused the stabbing pain of a toothache. If the tooth pain was severe, it meant that the worm was thrashing around. If the aching stopped, then the worm was at rest. Cultures all over the world held on to the notion of the tooth worm, even though many had no contact with each other. The folklore of the tooth worm persisted from ancient times to the beginning of the 18th century. It wasn't until 1960 that Dr. Paul Keyes discovered that tooth decay was caused primarily by bacteria known as Streptococcus Mutans.

The Toothy Truth About George Washington

The father of our country, George Washington, suffered from poor dental health. He suffered from toothaches all his adult life. Some people believed that his quick temper may have been the result of this dental pain. Throughout his life, he wore partial and full dentures because of his extracted teeth.

By the time Washington became president of the United States in 1790, he only had one tooth - his lower left bicuspid. When his dentures were made, this tooth was made to show through a hole in his lower denture. When President Washington sat for his inaugural painting, the artist, Gilbert Stuart, thought that his dentures were too short, making his cheeks and lips look sunken. He padded Washington's mouth with cotton attempting to restore the natural lines of his face. This technique did not work. Instead, he looked puffy in his portrait.

These fun facts may give you something to smile about. Protect your smile by taking care of your teeth and gums. Practicing good dental health habits, like brushing twice a day and flossing daily can help you maintain a healthy smile for a lifetime.

Fun Facts

  • Children have the right idea about smiling?they smile about 400 times a day.
  • Women smile about 62 times a day compared to men who smile 8 times a day on average.
  • Your teeth are as unique as your fingerprints. Even identical twins do not have exactly the same teeth.

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.

Sources: American Dental Association; Toothbrush Express; Dentalxchange; Loretta Frances, Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry, Millerbrook Press George Washington's Mount Vernon: