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              History of Chinese Invention and Discovery

History of Chinese Invention - The Invention of the Toothbrush

A Hygiene article in Discover Magazine, September, 2007, attributed the invention of the modern bristle toothbrush to the Chinese in the year 1498. This first true toothbrush was described as cattle-bone handle with embedded Siberian pig hair bristles. It has been difficult to locate authoratative sources on the Chinese history, however cites the description of the bristly hair toothbrush in a Chinese encyclopedia of 1498. Traders from China brought bristle toothbrushes to Europe in the seventeenth century.

CNN reported January 22, 2003 about an MIT survey on historical inventions, that named the toothbrush as a more prized innovation than the car, the personal computer, the cell phone and the microwave. Early forms of the toothbrush have been in existence since about 3500 BCE. The toothbrush seems to have its origins in the chewing sticks of Babylonia and Egypt. A "chew stick" or siwak was a thin branch of fibrous wood with a frayed end, usually fashioned from aromatic trees to freshen the mouth, along with cleaning it.

In the seventeenth century, Europeans often used rags or sponges dipped in sulfur oil or a salt solution to rub their teeth clean. Sometimes these rags were attached to a stick to help reach the back teeth, but the teeth were essentially being mopped, rather than brushed. In 1780 William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, created the first mass-produced toothbrush. Addis attached hairs from the tail of a cow to the end of a whittled thighbone, and later used horse and boar hairs to create bristle similar to the earlier Chinese version. The first patent issued for a toothbrush was by H. N. Wadsworth in 1857 in the United States, but mass production of the product in America would not come until 1885.

Humans have likely been picking their teeth for as long as they've been eating, and toothpick grooves have been found in the teeth of prehistoric humans. Early toothpicks were fashioned from bird claws or feathers, porcupine quills, wooden thorns, bamboo, bones, ivory, shells, quills or even walrus whiskers. During eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, toothpicks were often made from goose feathers, or copper, silver or gold. The early history and evolution of the toothbrush has its origin in the "chewingsticks" used by the Babylonians as early as 3500 BC. Ancient Greek and Roman literature even discusses primitive toothpicks that were chewed on to help clean the teeth and mouth. As the years passed, toothpicks matured into the chew stick which was about the size of a modern pencil. One end was chewed into and became softened and brush-like while the opposite end was pointed and used as a pick to clean food and debris from between the teeth. The twigs used were carefully chosen from aromatic trees that had the ability to clean and freshen the mouth. The earliest literature showing the use of these twigs is found in Chinese literature at around 1600 BC. The toothbrush was first invented by the Chinese in the 15th century and brought back to Europe by travellers. This toothbrush was made of hairs from the neck of a Siberian wild boar which were fixed to a bamboo or bone handle. The people, however, found the wild boar hairs too stiff. At the time, very few people in the Western world brushed their teeth, and those who did preferred horse hairs, which were softer than those of the wild boar! In Europe, it was more customary after meals to use a goose feather toothpick, or one made of silver or copper. Interestingly, the babylonians had been using a 'chewing stick' type of toothpick in 3500 BC to clean their teeth. In Europe, William Addis of England was credited with the 1st toothbrush in Europe in 1780 AD. It was then produced in France in 1840 and then spreaded to America. As for the time frame when toothbrush was invented in China, I think the information might not be right. According to Chinese source at and archaeological research, toothbrush could have appeared in China as early as 9th century. In 1953, two ivory-made toothbrushes were excavated from a Liao-dynasty tomb in Liaoning province. This toothbrush dated back to 959 AD and was based on bristle-type (????). According to, toothbrush most likely originated from northern China. This had most likely related to the northern nomads who were generally meat-eaters. Till the Song dynasty, toothbrush were used by the aristocracy as well as by Liao Imperial family members. By Yuan and Ming dynasty, toothbrush began to be more widespread amongst the middle and lower class.

The American Dental Association website shows an image of a toothbrush fashioned from a tree branch in their section on ancient origins of dentistry. Stickbrush tooth cleaner


20 Things You Didn't Know About Hygiene
Discover Magazine
Liza Lentini and David Mouzon, September, 2007.

Evolution and Analysis of the Toothbrush
American Society of Mechanical Engineers Mechanical Advantage
Kylie W. Sembera, Vol. 10 ,March, 2001.

Invention of the Toothbrush
The second world almanac book of inventions
Valerie-Anne Giscard d'Estaing, New York, World Almanac, 1986.

American Heritage, History's Homepage Invention and Technology Magazine. Toothbrush trounces car as top invention The History of Toothpaste and Toothbrushes.

Everyday Mysteries from pages of the Library of Congress

American Dental Association bibliography on the History of the Toothbrush (first referenced in 2005, but recently pages have been taken down)


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