Who invented the toothbrush?

The history of oral hygiene goes back a long way, with recent archaeological finds proving that there were even Stone Age dentists...

Who invented the toothbrush? © Getty Images

But who invented the toothbrush? Well, it depends on your definition. To freshen their breath, the people of ancient India chewed an aromatic twig, called a dentakashta, and the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and Tudors all did something similar.

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It seems the first people to actually make a toothbrush were the medieval Chinese who, in the 1400s, stitched spiky pig bristles into a bamboo or bone handle. These were brought to Europe by travelling merchants, and French physicians did briefly use them, but they didn’t catch on in Britain.

So while the Chinese can technically take all the credit, the person commonly dubbed the ‘inventor’ of the toothbrush is an 18th-century Brit.

NEWGATE OR COLGATE?

William Addis was a professional rag-dealer in the East End of London. In 1780, he was chucked in Newgate Prison – perhaps for rioting – and it was here that inspiration struck.

The story goes that Addis whittled holes into a pig bone left over from his dinner, and threaded them with bristles from a nearby broom, thereby creating his toothbrush prototype.

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When he was released from jail, he experimented with other materials and soon started selling toothbrushes with great success, as the sugar-obsessed population of Georgian Britain suffered appalling tooth decay.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed.