Toothbrushes have been used in one form or another for thousands of years. In their earliest form, the device used to clean the teeth and the inside of the mouth was often a chew stick made of some botanical medicinal like neem or miswak; one end of the chew stick was frayed and acted as a brush, while the other was pointed and served as a toothpick. Chew sticks were in use as early as 3500 BCE, in ancient Mesopotamia, and are still used in some cultures today. Historically, some cultures also used feathers, bones, or porcupine quills to clean the teeth. The first bristled toothbrush was made of hog bristles and bone and was used in China more than a thousand years ago, during the Tang Dynasty. Today’s toothbrushes are made of wood or plastic and have bristles made of nylon or bamboo. The toothbrush is used to clean the teeth, of course, and also the tongue and gums, and consists of a cluster of bristles affixed to a handle. The handle allows the user to reach the rear teeth, behind the teeth, and the base of the tongue, making the toothbrush an effective and efficient oral hygiene tool. Toothbrushes are most often used with toothpaste, which uses mild abrasives to remove plaque and food debris from the teeth and to polish the surfaces of the teeth.


Toothbrushes are currently available in countless different sizes and forms. Dentists recommend using soft-bristled toothbrushes, as harder bristles can harm the gums and damage the enamel of the teeth. It is also common to brush the teeth near a sink or water receptacle, as it is necessary to rinse the toothbrush after brushing to clean debris from the bristles and prohibit germ growth. Toothbrushes made of horsehair or boar bristle were still imported from China until the middle of the 20th century. Toothbrushes were mass produced in the U.K. as early as 1780, and the first patent for a toothbrush was granted in 1857, in the United States, but the U.S. did not begin mass producing toothbrushes until 1885. Regularly brushing the teeth did not become a common practice in the U.S. until World War II. By this time, the bristles of toothbrushes were made of nylon, and the handles were made of celluloid. Since then, there have been innumerable innovations in toothbrush manufacturing.


New bristle types, shapes and sizes have emerged, as well as brushes with angled handles, each purporting to be more effective at cleaning the teeth than its predecessor. The first electric toothbrush was invented in 1954; since then, electric toothbrushes with faster-moving bristles have been invented and can now be classified as standard, sonic, and ultrasonic. Electric toothbrushes may be more comfortable for the user, and it is believed that they effectively reduce the amount of plaque more efficiently than manual toothbrushes. Interdental toothbrushes have narrow, cylindrical brush heads and are designed to clean between the teeth between orthodontic fixtures like braces. End-tuft toothbrushes have small, round heads that can facilitate the cleaning of implants, dentures, and dental appliances. Chewable toothbrushes are disposable, flavored miniature toothbrushes that can be helpful when traveling. Musical toothbrushes can be helpful tools to encourage children to brush for the correct amount of time -- the length of the song they play while the child is brushing.


Although dentists universally agree that brushing twice daily and flossing daily is the best routine to prevent tooth decay, it is also important to practice a proper brushing technique. Many dentists recommend holding the brush loosely, brushing the teeth in soft, circular motions to avoid irritating the gums, and brushing for at least 2 minutes, though some dentists recommend other techniques. It is not advisable to share toothbrushes, for hygiene and health reasons, and it is recommended to rinse the toothbrush and allow it to dry after use, to reduce the growth of bacteria. Dentists also recommend replacing your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.