Dental Health

Brushes & Pastes; An Evolutionary Trend

One common everyday routine we all engage in is tooth brushing. We often feel incomplete and uncomfortable if we leave our houses in the morning without brushing our teeth.

Tooth brushing is one of the single most important dental self-care routine performed by everyone. It is the act of scrubbing our teeth with a toothbrush equipped with toothpaste.

Growing up, one of the earliest routines we get to learn is brushing our teeth. We all know to brush our teeth at least every morning, but have you ever wondered how this routine came about? Did our ancestors brush their teeth? did they use toothbrushes like we do today? How did they get to keep their mouth clean?

Going back in time to know how things were done once upon a time not only helps us to have the knowledge but knowing how far we have come also helps us to appreciate what we have and do presently.

Toothbrushing as we know today can be seen as a recent practice and dates to the 1800’s, however, our ancestors did not walk about with smelly unwashed mouths.

In ancient times, there were many ways devised for cleaning and maintaining a healthy mouth. Archeological examination of teeth from the stone age shows markings that revealed the use of wood and animal bones as cleaning aids.

Another method of cleaning the mouth was chewing aromatic sticks and twigs like mint, ginger and cinnamon, which had natural antiseptic properties. 

Use of water to rinse was also reported, but this was found to be ineffective.

This led to using of a piece of cloth to clean the mouth, and also the use of a stick that has been frayed by chewing on its end, a practice still applicable in some climes today. Not just every stick was used in cleaning, there were special sticks that had medicinal and antiseptic value, these were specially selected and used.

How was the toothbrush introduced?

Ancient toothbrushes were made by roughening and fraying ends of stems and sticks and attaching them to twigs.This was used commonly by Babylonians and Egyptians as early as 3500-3000BC.

More advanced brushes were made by use of animal bristles, feathers and horsehair by the Chinese in the 15th century.

The modern toothbrush was designed in the 1800’s.

Today thankfully, there are many innovations to the toothbrush, with both manual and electric toothbrushes. Multiple designs in both bristles and handles are available in many beautiful colours!


The toothpaste which is an adjunct necessary for complete toothbrushing was invented in the 15th century.

Before toothpaste, our ancestors used various materials in an attempt to clean their teeth. These were available as powders or sometimes as a slurry, which was used in combination with ancient toothbrushes or used by hand.

The content of these materials included potentially harmful substances, such that it would have been better they left their mouths unwashed. These contents included brick dust, ground ox hoof, rock salt, pepper, chalk, ashes etc.

Tooth powder which is still in use in some places today was then developed as a modification of ancient materials, to those which were relatively safer.

Toothpaste when first invented was present in a jar like a body cream, and everyone had to dip in their brushes (gross!). This was considered as unhygienic by ancient Dentists and led to the invention of the present toothpaste in a tube.

Today there are various kinds of toothpaste in various colours and flavours available, that we are spoiled for choice.

Looking back, I’m glad we live in this century. So when next you are reluctant about brushing, think about what our ancestors have been through and be grateful!

Join us as we learn more about the act of toothbrushing in our subsequent articles.

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Dr. Eureka Orhorhoro
Dr. Eureka Orhorhoro is an amazing Dentist, with a strong passion for Health Care Advancement in Nigeria. She believes that the right information is crucial in improving Oral health care and she is ready to make a global difference. she loves reading, baking & cooking.

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