Did you know that, here in the US, toothbrushing wasn’t routine until after World War II? Seriously. Soldiers, who’d been required to brush daily, brought the habit back with them to civilian life.
To be sure, people did clean their teeth before then. They’d been doing so for thousands of years – just not so habitually. The earliest known toothbrush dates back to 3000 BC, and the modern bristled toothbrush dates back to 13th century China – perhaps even a century or two earlier. Still, it wasn’t until 1885 that toothbrushes began being mass produced in the US.
At this time, the typical toothbrush consisted of animal bristle in a bone handle. This had its shortcomings. The bristles fell out easily, didn’t dry well and tended to retain bacteria. So the invention of synthetic fibers such as nylon was a boon to dental hygiene – and toothbrush manufacturers.
Through the years, manufacturers pushed innovation, much as they do today – new features or gimmicks claimed to improve performance (“Ideal Felt Tooth Polisher”) or at least make toothbrushing more fun (“There’s a whistle in the handle!”). Check out these vintage ads from www.dentalposterart.com (click any image to enlarge):
In 50 or 100 years, will today’s Sonicare and Oral-B ads seem so quaint?