Sticks to Nylon: The Evolution of the Toothbrush

   The modern tooth brush has come a long way. But what exactly are these little fibers at the end of a toothbrush we call bristles made of and how did we get here?

You can credit today’s toothbrush bristles to a man named Wallace Carothers, a chemist for DuPont. Carothers created “nylon,” the world’s first synthetic fiber, in the late 1930s. While that may seem quite a long time ago, this is relatively recent in the timeline of toothbrushes.

The earliest known devices humans have used to clean their teeth are plant-derived “chew sticks”that have been used since the time of the Babylonians (about 3500 B.C.).

Sometime during the Chinese Tang Dynasty (619-907 A.D.), the first bristle toothbrush was invented using boar’s hair. These stiff, sturdy bristles were inserted into a bamboo or bone “handle.”

        Fast forward to the 1700s, when a European merchant named William Addis swapped boar’s hair for much softer horsehair. In 1780, he began marketing his new and improved toothbrush in London, England, and the first mass-produced toothbrush was born.

By the end of WWII, toothbrushes with nylon bristles became the most popular form of toothbrush.While animal hair-based toothbrush bristles still exist to this day, they are no longer commonly used for the simple reason that nylon is vastly more affordable, durable and hygienic than animal hair that breaks down easily and is a breeding ground for bacteria.

The traditional manual toothbrush with nylon bristles is seen as one of the greatest and most important inventions of the 20th century. Today, toothbrushes continue to evolve with the invention of electric and so-called “smart” toothbrushes. Other innovations include charcoal-infused bristles to help whiten the teeth and bio-based plastics that claim to reduce the use of fossil fuels and have an overall smaller carbon footprint.

While no one knows what sorts of advances in toothbrush technology the future will bring, one thing is for certain, brushing the inside of one’s mouth to prevent tooth decay, avoid gum disease and freshen the breath is nothing new. We have, however, come up with better and cleverer ways of doing it to accomplish the same goal:

                               keep our teeth as long as we can!

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