Picture this; the year is 1492, you’re aboard a ship named either the Pinta, Niña or Santa Maria setting sail from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean. The captain? A barbaric explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus. You’re headed back to the galley after a meal of stale bread, some of which has been lodged in your teeth. No worry, you’ll just brush them, right? Wrong.
The toothbrush wasn’t invented until the year 1498 when Emperor Hongzhi of China’s Ming Dynasty patented what was essentially a stick of bamboo with hog bristles stuck into it- the first toothbrush. While this was the first true toothbrush, people all over the world had been finding odd ways to clean their teeth for thousands of years. In many parts of the world, people used “chew sticks,” sticks that they would chew until the end was completely frayed.
From Ming Dynasty China, the toothbrush made its way to Europe, where Englishman William Addis began to mass produce them by importing boar’s hair from Northern China. In 1844, Meyer Rhein brought it a step further, patenting a three-row toothbrush with separated bristles. Shortly before World War I, plastic handles began to dominate the market, and in 1938, a member of the DuPont family invented the nylon bristle. With dental hygiene and appearance being a top priority in today’s world- especially in the United States- we’re lucky to have such a groundbreaking invention at our disposal for as little as five dollars. Without it, our smiles would be much harder to look at.