The development of tooth cleaning products has largely moved alongside societies understanding of dental disease.
In early civilisation, prayers and chants were said over a person suffering with toothache. Very early cleaning tools have been found by archaeologist going back many thousands of years
In the 18th century French surgeon Pierre Auchard determined that sugar caused decay in teeth and that evil spirits and tooth worms were not responsible.
Tooth worms have been believed to be the cause of tooth decay as far back as 5000yrs BC. They believed that worms burrowed into teeth and thus creating a hole. Documents referring to these worms being removed were probably referring to the nerve within the tooth and following its removal would frequently see the cessation of pain.
Auchard also described what we now know is periodontal (gum disease) and indicated that treatment could be achieved by meticulous cleaning of the teeth using scaling instruments and dentifrice. It is in latter years the dental profession has realised that the successful out for treating periodontal disease lies with the effectiveness of the individuals cleaning regime as well as professional cleaning in the dental chair. Despite the lack of knowledge of the cause of gum disease, for thousands of years, people of all civilisations have sought to find ways of cleaning their teeth
The Invention of Toothpaste
As long ago as 5000 BC the Egyptians were making a tooth powder consisting of powdered ashes of ox hooves, myrrh, powdered and burnt eggshells, and pumice. This was rubbed on the teeth with the finger.
The encyclopaedia “Information for People” published in 1849 by Chambers, listed many ingredients that could be used, including black lead, suet and burnt tobacco. Most families would have their own favourite recipe for making toothpowders or pastes.
Eventually commercial tooth powders were made and sold in fancy ceramic pots. These powders were developed by doctors, dentists and chemists and included substances very abrasive to teeth, such as brick dust, crushed china, earthenware and cuttlefish. Bicarbonate of soda was used as the basis for most toothpowders, and some contained other ingredients that would not be considered appropriate today, such as sugar. Borax powder was added at the end of the 18th Century to produce a favourable foaming effect. The rich applied toothpowder with a brush, whilst the less well-off used their finger. Some more elaborate tooth powders contained areca or betel nut which we now know are carcinogenic, eventually powders gave way to pastes or creams.
In the early 20th century if toothpaste was not affordable people would use a combination of soot and salt. The family toothbrush would be put up the chimney and a sprinkle of salt added to assist brushing. The whole family would often share the same toothbrush.
Eventually fluoride was added to toothpaste, and the incidence of tooth decay dropped dramatically. In the middle of the 20th century a fashion for using toothpastes containing jewellers rouge (zinc oxide or rust) became popular. This stained the gums, allegedly making the teeth look whiter.
The Development of Toothbrushes
Roots and sticks were initially used as toothpicks and these eventually became chew sticks. A stick similar size to a pencil would be chewed until it formed a tuft of bristles and then used as a brush to clean the teeth. Bristles would have been made of pig hair.
It is though that certain twigs or tubers like purple nutsedge may well have had antibacterial properties. These were chewed to cleanse teeth despite its bitter taste. Even in the current day, some cultures choose to use a miswak stick in place of current oral hygiene products. There is a school of thought that suggests that these may well have some antibacterial properties against some of the bacteria that are known to be responsible for initiating periodontal disease.
In the Tang dynasty in China, evidence of bristle brushes being used early first century
William Addis developed the first toothbrush. These early brushes were made out of bone and boar bristle. It wasn’t until 1937 that nylon bristles were first used in toothbrushes and eventually toothbrushes were mass produced.
The Introduction of Electric Toothbrushes
Electric toothbrushes were developed in the 1960s and were primarily for people with manual dexterity issues
Early dental floss was originally made of silk and the first patent was granted to Johnson and Johnson in 1898. During the Second World War a shortage of silk lead manufacturers to consider the use of nylon instead. More modern floss is still made of man-made fibres and some are made of Gore Tex and even coated in Teflon.
Interdental brushes have been a much later production, it wasn’t until the 1980s that these were produced as an alternative to floss.
Over the centuries humans have developed cleaver and ingenious was to clean their teeth. Even civilisations that did not necessarily understand the role that plaque played in oral disease, still sort to clean their teeth somehow. Animals such as monkeys have been seen to use twigs to clean their teeth. It would seem that having unclean mouths is abhorrent to humans and monkeys alike.