As patients of Drs. Doyel and Aanderud well know, brushing and flossing regularly can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. While most dentists didn’t start to regularly advise their patients about the benefits of preventative dental care until after World War II, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss have been around for hundreds of years.
Before the invention of toothbrushes people use today, ancient man used small twigs from fibrous trees called chewsticks. By chewing on one end of the stick until the fibers of the wood were loose, ancient man would then whisk way any extra food from between their teeth by using the small fibers like a brush. Chewsticks are still used today in parts of Africa and in some Islamic countries.
The first toothbrush that resembled what we use today was invented by the ancient Chinese who created bristled toothbrushes using hair from the necks of pigs that lived in colder climates.
Despite these early advances in toothbrush technology, brushing one’s teeth for the sake of good dental hygiene didn’t catch on until much later in history. By the late 19th century, multiple companies were mass producing toothbrushes, but very few Americans actually bothered to brush their teeth. It wasn’t until Charles Cassidy Bass, a physician from Mississippi, began proposing the radical idea that a person’s teeth didn’t have to fall out just because they got older, did people begin to consider brushing on a regular basis. As part of his message about better dental health, Dr. Bass developed a brushing technique that still remains part of the curriculum at many dental schools today.
The ancient Chinese, who must have had some of the nicest smiles in the ancient world, were one of the first cultures to invent toothpaste around 500 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used toothpaste, and added crushed bone and oyster shells to the mixture to provide a better abrasive base for which to brush with.
By the early 19th century, toothpaste that resembles what we use today was being developed. The first toothpaste to have soap added to it (detergent is what makes soap so frothy) was invented in 1824, and by 1873, Colgate was selling the first mass produced brand of toothpaste in a jar. The first packaging of toothpaste in a collapsible tube was marketed in 1892 as Dr. Sheffield’s Creme Dentifrice, but that would be the last great advance in the product’s development until after World War II, when such emulsifying agents and fluoride were added to the mixture.
Archeologist have found evidence suggesting that ancient civilizations used some form of dental floss, but not much is known about what materials they used. The inventor of modern day floss, New Orleans physician Levi Spear Parmly, began promoting the use of his silk made floss in 1815, and the Johnson and Johnson Company first patented a dental floss in 1898. The afore mentioned Dr. Bass was the first person to develop a nylon substitute for floss instead of silk.