Although dental hygiene in general has improved much since then, toothbrushes have been discovered dating as far back as 3500 BCE in parts of ancient Egypt. These first toothbrushes were unsophisticated, merely twigs with frayed ends, but their importance is apparent, as they were often left in tombs for the deceased to use to maintain their healthy teeth in the afterlife!
The first toothbrush styled much like modern toothbrushes was invented by the ancient Chinese sometime in the 1400s. Back then, handles were carved from bone or bamboo and the bristles were actually pigs’ hairs. Though they might have been effective, it’s hard to imagine people today being comfortable putting pigs’ hairs in their mouths twice per day.
Modern toothbrushes use nylon for bristles, which was invented in the 1930s. Surprisingly, this simple design of a handle and bristles hasn’t changed much in all this time. When we consider all the advances in medical technology, it is fascinating that the simplicity of the toothbrush’s design has remained basically the same for thousands of years. Even the invention of electric toothbrushes didn’t change the fundamental design.
Toothpaste has similarly remained the same for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were the first culture known to use pastes to clean their teeth, though the Romans, Greeks, and Chinese also used them. The ingredients were different, then, and less appetizing even than pigs’ hairs. Some pastes included crushed bones and/or ashes!
As recently as 1945, modern toothpaste included soap to clean teeth, but today toothpaste contains fluoride to clean and protect teeth from the threat of tartar. Discovery of other chemicals has helped to make modern toothpaste smooth and creamy in texture, and there is now an assortment of specialty pastes to whiten teeth, fight plaque, or freshen breath.