What Came Before the Toothbrush?

I’m sure you already brush your teeth twice daily and ensure some type of interdental cleaning (like flossing!) at least once a day, but have you ever wondered how these miracle products came to be? When you a hearty meal and realizing all sorts of plaque is stuck to the surface of your teeth, leaving them rough or gritty, there is no better feeling than waltzing to the bathroom to and brushing the dental grime away. Surely though, you weren’t the first person to do this, and neither were your parents.

chewstick close up

The bristle end of a chewstick.

The history of toothbrushes goes back a long way, and this post is the first on a few entries on the history of oral hygiene. Today, we’ll look at the direct predecessors of the toothbrush!

The chewstick, is the earliest ancestor of the modern toothbrush. The simplest definition of the device is a twig with bristles on one end that can be used to clean the teeth, and a point on the other that could be used as a toothpick. However, as we know today, bacteria can wreak all sorts of woeful oral havoc, and as such, not just any tree was used to fashion a chewstick. Often, people would try to obtain twigs from trees that had chemical properties best suited to fighting oral germs. There were many trees that could be used, but the sassafras tree, tea tree, and cinnamon are but three types that could be used.

Chewsticks were used long ago by the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese. Their use lives on though, as they are still used by many throughout the African continent and rural areas of the Southern United States!