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History of Dentistry and Dental Care

Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Dental Floss & Toothpicks

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Woman using dental floss

Woman using dental floss

Getty Images: Photographer Paul Burns

Toothbrush

Natural bristle brushes were invented by the ancient Chinese who made toothbrushes with bristles from the necks of cold climate pigs.

French dentists were the first Europeans to promote the use of toothbrushes in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. William Addis of Clerkenwald, England, created the first mass-produced toothbrush. The first American to patent a toothbrush was H. N. Wadsworth and many American Companies began to mass-produce toothbrushes after 1885. The Pro-phy-lac-tic brush made by the Florence Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts is one example of an early American made toothbrush. The Florence Manufacturing Company was also the first to sell toothbrushes packaged in boxes. In 1938, DuPont manufactured the first nylon bristle toothbrushes.

Hard to believe, but most Americans did not brush their teeth until Army soldiers brought their enforced habits of tooth brushing back home after World War II.

The first real electric toothbrush was produced in 1939, and developed in Switzerland. In 1960, Squibb marketed the first American electrical toothbrush in the United States called the Broxodent. General Electric introduced a rechargeable cordless toothbrush in 1961. Introduced in 1987, Interplak was the first rotary action electrical toothbrush for home use.

Toothpaste

Toothpaste was used as long ago as 500 BC in both China and India; however, modern toothpastes were developed in the 1800s. In 1824, a dentist named Peabody was the first person to add soap to toothpaste. John Harris first added chalk as an ingredient to toothpaste in the 1850s. In 1873, Colgate mass-produced the first toothpaste in a jar. In 1892, Dr. Washington Sheffield of Connecticut manufactured toothpaste into a collapsible tube. Sheffield's toothpaste was called Dr. Sheffield's Creme Dentifrice. In 1896, Colgate Dental Cream was packaged in collapsible tubes imitating Sheffield. Advancements in synthetic detergents made after WW II allowed for the replacement of the soap used in toothpaste with emulsifying agents such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Ricinoleate. A few years later, Colgate started to add fluoride to toothpaste.

Dental Floss

Dental floss is an ancient invention. Researchers have found dental floss and toothpick grooves in the teeth of prehistoric humans. Levi Spear Parmly (1790-1859), a New Orleans dentist is credited as being the inventor of modern dental floss (or maybe the term re-inventor would be more accurate). Parmly promoted teeth flossing with a piece of silk thread in 1815.

In 1882, the Codman and Shurtleft Company of Randolph, Massachusetts started to mass-produce unwaxed silk floss for commercial home use. The Johnson and Johnson Company of New Brunswick, New Jersey were the first to patent dental floss in 1898. Dr. Charles C. Bass developed nylon floss as a replacement for silk floss during WW II. Dr. Bass was also responsible for making teeth flossing an important part of dental hygiene.

Toothpick

In 1872, Silas Noble and J. P. Cooley patented the first toothpick-manufacturing machine.
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