An eye for an i #300 Children

Brushing through the ages

Brushing might not be something that you look forward to every day, but it is something that we cannot do without.

Brushing might not be something that you look forward to every day, but it is something that we cannot do without.  

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On June 26, 1498, Emperor Hongzhi of Ming Dynasty China patented a toothbrush, a forerunner of the ones that we use every day. Join A.S.Ganesh as he glances through history to trace the evolution of the toothbrush.

Which category do you belong to? Do you get up briskly every morning and enthusiastically brush your teeth to get your day started? Or do you just go through the motions while brushing, pretending to still be asleep, taking as long as you possibly can. Either way, for almost all of us, our days begin with a toothbrush in hand.

Even before civilisations started pondering about various questions pertaining to their existence, they had surely begun worrying about their own oral health. For, evidence suggests that the earliest tools to clean our teeth date back to 3000 BC.

Chew it!

The chew-stick or toothstick was one one of the earliest tools used by human beings to clean teeth. Essentially a piece of twig, one end of it was chewed on till it became quite frayed, after which this end was used to scrape and brush the teeth.

Based on the culture or region that one belonged to, the chew-stick that they used differed. Ayurveda played a major role in determining the stick used by Indians of that time, implying that neem and banyan were the preferred trees. Twigs from the Arak tree, with its antiseptic properties, were the go-to chew-sticks for Muslims. As for the Egyptians, they often included toothsticks as one of the burial artifacts, denoting the relevance of these instruments in their society.

Bristle brushes

There were other methods of oral hygiene as well. Washing and wiping teeth with a cloth, sometimes dipped in a saline solution, and using primitive forms of toothpicks were some of the popular methods. But it was the Chinese who made the significant leap in this field.

The first bristle brush – like the ones we use today – was probably invented in China during the Tang Dynasty. There is a record from Japanese Zen master Dogen Kigen in 1223 that talks about Chinese monks employing bristle brushes to clean their teeth.

How exactly were these brushes made? The coarse hair behind a hog’s head is stiff enough to be used as bristles. These are then set at right angles into pieces of bone or bamboo. The resulting contraption could effectively reach and brush the crevices in the mouth. On June 26, 1498, Emperor Hongzhi of Ming Dynasty China patented this toothbrush.

News of the innovation spread through to Europe, but it wasn’t replicated immediately, owing perhaps to the lack of horsehair or feathers that were stiff enough to be used for the required purpose. It was only in the 1770s that Englishman William Addis acted upon the idea, importing boar bristles from Siberia and northern China and then mass producing brushes, which sold well.

Keeps changing

Innovations came in next. Three-row toothbrush with a tuft of jagged, saw-like bristle edges were patented in 1844 by Meyer Rhein. Celluloid plastic brush handles made their appearance during World War I. And once Dupont invented nylon, brushes with bristles made of nylon made their way in 1938. Electric toothbrushes and rechargeable models followed.

So when you wake up tomorrow, before you apply your toothpaste on your brush, have a closer look at the brush that you are using, the handle and the pattern of the bristles on it. For, cleaner, long-lasting teeth with the help of these brushes has been the result of centuries of innovation.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 3:57:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/brushing-through-the-ages/article24253549.ece

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