The urge to clean ourselves is something we’re born with. Animals do it, and though it’s not clear quite when humans first made the connection between teeth being dirty and teeth hurting or falling out, it’s clear from archaeological evidence that we’ve been trying to keep our teeth clean for a very long time. Proper dental hygiene was a priority for several key figures in the history of the United States, to the point where, by the 1940s, immigrants were given special tuition on how to do it properly. By the mid 20th Century it had become an important part of creating a professional image and was vital to anyone who wished to be considered attractive. But how did technology keep up with changing attitudes, and how did we get to the point where we find ourselves today?
Early tooth care
It might sound unpleasant today, but a few thousand years ago, nobody brushed their teeth. that didn’t mean, however, that they didn’t look after them. Instead, they chewed sticks, often made from trees or woody vines like the miswak (Salvadore Persica) or whiteroot (Gouania Lupuloides) which contain natural antibiotics. Some people still use these sticks today. The chewing action produces saliva which helps to fight decay and the gently abrasive action of the woody material helps to remove plaque. People would also scratch away plaque with their fingernails or rub it away using pieces of bark.
The first toothbrushes were developed in China in the 13th Century and took the form of bamboo sticks with boar bristles attached to the end. Bone handled versions emerged in England in the late 18th Century, just as the import of large quantities of raw sugar was leading to a dental health crisis. In 1937, nylon bristles were developed in Delaware and attached to celluloid handles, creating the first modern toothbrushes; and electric toothbrushes were invented in Switzerland and went on sale to the public in the late 1950s, though it would be another 40 years before they became really popular.
Toothpastes and mouthwashes
Abrasive methods of cleaning teeth are, of course, much more effective if toothpaste is also used. Te Ancient Egyptians were the first people known to make a ‘tooth powder’ (using pumice, ground ox hooves, eggshell and myrrh) which would have been moistened with saliva, around 7,000 years ago. 4,500 years later, Aristotle recommended to Alexander the Great a mixture made from sulfur oil and salt, a practice that remained in use well into the 19th Century. In 1900, Colgate started marketing a mixture of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide , and fluoride toothpastes emerged in 1914.
Early forms of mouthwash were mostly based on urine, alcohol or vinegar – it wasn’t until 1200 that a German philosopher, Hildegard von Bingen, suggested that rinsing with clean water might be a good idea. Effective antiseptic mouthwashes emerged in the 19th Century, with modern versions containing sodium hexametephosphate and hydrogen peroxide developed in the 1960s.
Toothpicks and floss
Toothpicks appeared around 3000BC in Mesopotamia, where they were considered to be luxury items and were elegantly carved. The Ancient Chinese would sharpen chewing sticks at one end so they could double up as toothpicks. We know that people were flossing way back in prehistory because we can see the marks in teeth from ancient graves around the world, but the first modern floss didn’t emerge until 1815, in New Orleans, when silk began to be marketed for the purpose. Nylon proved more effective and was used from the mid-20th Century onwards.
Cosmetic dental care
Just as people have always wanted their teeth to be clean, they have always wanted them to look good. This is probably one reason why teeth were rinsed with urine for centuries, as the ammonia it contains would have whitened them. In the 1700s, people would have acid applied to their teeth to bleach them, but this wore away the enamel and was bad for longer term tooth health. Latterly, tooth whitening has become a specialist dental technique, though you can also purchase whitening products at AsSeenOnTVStore.com to use in the comfort of your own home. These are much safer than the traditional options – just make sure you follow the instructions carefully to get the desired effect.
Thanks to all these developments, most people now keep the majority of their teeth well into old age. Sugary and acidic modern diets can be hard on teeth, however, so we shouldn’t relax and expect technology to take care of us. You need to look after your own teeth day to day if you want to maintain a dazzling smile.