Toothbrush : History of Everyday Objects

As of 2021 the Oral Care Market was valued globally at USD 49.40 Billion.And to think it all started with the humble teeth-cleaning stick. In India and South-East Asia this practice is more prevalent in the rural areas, even today. However, with Ayurvedic wellness being exported and promoted globally the practice of chewing on a wooden stick is gaining popularity once again. This practice of Datun is an age-old preventive remedy for gum health and oral hygiene.

Oral Hygiene in the Ancient World

The birth of the chewing stick as a tool for cleaning teeth, was developed as way back as 3500-3000 BC in Babylonia. Preceded only by the age-old ‘index-finger technique’ of brushing. Further, some accounts in Europe and the Far East also talk of rubbing salt and charcoal on their teeth and then rinsing it out.

In the Middle East, the Arabs took this process one step further. They made a paste to apply to their teeth known as miswak. It was usually made from Arak trees. Miswaks have antibacterial properties and are even used today!

The brushes invented by the Chinese were made of bone or wood, with prickly pig hairs for bristles. The first toothbrush for the European market showed up in 1780, made by William Addis. Legend has it that he came up with the idea of mthe toothbrush while serving time in prison.


The first patented toothbrush invented by H. N Wadsworth released in markets in 1857. His brush improved on previous ones by clustering the bristles in several groups, and tapering the end of the brush. This development was “intended to force its way far back in the mouth”. Today we find that some brushes have additional design features to help with cleaning one’s tongue as well.

The toothbrush continued on it’s journey on modifications. In 1938 nylon bristles became the rage for toothbrushes. Why? You ask, simple – nylon was easy to produce in mass quantities. In addition, for many early environmental activists it was certainly more appealing (and animal friendly) than boar bristles and hair from other animals.


The first electric toothbrush was invented in Switzerland after World War II. The initial intent of this toothbrush was for the handicapped or people with braces. But soon the idea made its way to America in 1959. Inspired by this E. R. Squibb and Sons Pharmaceuticals took on this idea and sold their first electric toothbrush in 1961.

30 years later, in 1992 Robert T. Bock patented the first first sonic toothbrush. This brush scrubs your teeth with sound waves that move at hundreds of millions of vibrations a minute. Over the decades this brush has gained popularity, especially with dentists due to it’s plaque removing efficacy. They love to recommend it.

The Sonic Toothbrush is a sub-set of the ever-growing electric-toothbrush market. A market that is estimated at USD 2979.1 Million (circa 2022).