Wednesday February 24, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Toothbrush
On this Day:
In 1938, Du Pont began the commercial sale of a toothbrush with nylon bristles. But it wasn’t the world’s first toothbrush. The humble toothbrush has quite a history.
A toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth, gums, and tongue. It consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles, atop of which toothpaste can be applied, mounted on a handle which facilitates the cleaning of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. They are usually used alongside floss.
They are available with different bristle textures, sizes, and forms. Most dentists recommend using a soft toothbrush since hard-bristled toothbrushes can damage tooth enamel and irritate the gums.
Before the invention of the toothbrush, a variety of oral hygiene measures had been used. This has been verified by excavations during which tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills were recovered.
The predecessor of the toothbrush is the chew stick. Chew sticks were twigs with frayed ends used to brush the teeth while the other end was used as a toothpick. The earliest chew sticks were discovered in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia in 3500 BC, an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC, and mentioned in Chinese records dating from 1600 BC. The Greeks and Romans used toothpicks to clean their teeth, and toothpick-like twigs have been excavated in Qin Dynasty tombs. Chew sticks remain common in Africa, the rural Southern United States, and in the Islamic world the use of chewing stick miswak is considered a pious action and has been prescribed to be used before every prayer five times a day. Miswaks have been used by Muslims since the 7th century. Twigs of Neem Tree have been used by ancient Indians. In fact, even today, Neem twigs called datun are used for brushing teeth in India, although not hugely common.
The first bristle toothbrush resembling the modern one was found in China. Used during the Tang Dynasty (619–907), it consisted of hog bristles. The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. In 1223, Japanese Zen master Dōgen Kigen recorded in his Shōbōgenzō that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horsetail hairs attached to an oxbone handle. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought from China to Europe by travellers. It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century. The earliest identified use of the word toothbrush in English was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood who wrote in 1690 that he had bought a toothbrush from J. Barret. Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes imported from China too firm and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes made from horsehair. Mass-produced toothbrushes made with horse or boar bristle continued to be imported to Britain from China until the mid 20th century.
‘Indexo’ finger toothbrush, New York, United States, 1901–1919. It is made entirely of rubber, which has been shaped to fit over the index finger.
In the UK, William Addis is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. In 1770, he had been jailed for causing a riot. While in prison he decided that using a rag with soot and salt on the teeth was ineffective and could be improved. After saving a small bone from a meal, he drilled small holes into the bone and tied into the bone tufts of bristles that he had obtained from one of the guards, passed the tufts of bristle through the holes in the bone and sealed the holes with glue. After his release, he became wealthy after starting a business manufacturing toothbrushes. He died in 1808, bequeathing the business to his eldest son. It remained within family ownership until 1996. Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristles were used for cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair for the more expensive ones.
Hertford Museum in Hertford, UK, holds approximately 5000 brushes that make up part of the Addis Collection. The Addis factory on Ware Road was a major employer in the town until 1996. Since the closure of the factory, Hertford Museum has received photographs and documents relating to the archive, and collected oral histories from former employees.
The first patent for a toothbrush was granted to H.N. Wadsworth in 1857 (U.S.A. Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States did not start until 1885. The improved design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Unfortunately, animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retained bacteria, did not dry efficiently and the bristles often fell out. In addition to bone, handles were made of wood or ivory. In the United States, brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily.
During the 1900s, celluloid gradually replaced bone handles. Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was invented in Switzerland in 1954. By the turn of the 21st century nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles and the handles were usually molded from thermoplastic materials.
Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical supplies firm, introduced the “Reach” toothbrush in 1977. It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth; the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing) materials; and the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles. Other manufacturers soon followed with other designs aimed at improving effectiveness. In spite of the changes with the number of tufts and the spacing, the handle form and design, the bristles were still straight and difficult to maneuver. In 1978 Dr. George C. Collis developed the Collis Curve toothbrush which was the first toothbrush to have curved bristles. The curved bristles follow the curvature of the teeth and safely reach in between the teeth and into the sulcular areas.
Patented in 1985, curved bristles allow for safe and easy brushing of teeth and gingival sulcus.
In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
The top toothbrush salesman at the company was asked by his boss how he managed to sell so many brushes.
He replied “It’s easy” and he pulled out his card table, setting his display of brushes on top.
He told his boss, I lay the brushes out like this, and then I put out some potato chips and dip to draw in the customers.
He laid out his chips and dip.
His boss said, “That’s a very innovative approach” and took one of the chips, dipped it, and stuck it in his mouth.
“Yuck, this tastes terrible!” his boss yelled.
The salesman replied “IT IS!
Want to buy a toothbrush?”
Second, a Song:
Raffi Cavoukian, CM OBC (Armenian: Րաֆֆի, born July 8, 1948), known professionally by the mononym Raffi, is a Canadian singer-lyricist and author of Armenian descent born in Egypt, best known for his children’s music. He developed his career as a “global troubadour” to become a music producer, author, entrepreneur, and founder of the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring, a vision for global restoration.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, to Armenian parents, he spent his early years in Egypt before immigrating with his family to Canada in 1958, eventually settling in Toronto, Ontario. His mother named him after the Armenian novelist Raffi. His father Arto Cavoukian was a well-known portrait photographer with a studio on Bloor Street in Toronto. His older brother Onnig Cavoukian, known as Cavouk, is also a famous portrait photographer. His younger sister is Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former Information and Privacy Commissioner. His parents died within twelve hours of each other, his mother dying first, of abdominal cancer.
In the early 1970s, Raffi frequented a guitar store near Yonge and Wellesley called Millwheel, where he met other developing Canadian musicians such as David Wilcox and John Lacey. Raffi ran a coffee house at the University of Toronto up until 1980. He befriended Lacey, a folk guitarist from Oakville, Ontario, who helped Raffi improve his finger picking (John Lacey went on to become a steel guitar player). Raffi continued playing folk guitar in various coffee houses in Toronto and Montréal before hitchhiking to Vancouver in 1972 to find “fame and fortune.”
He returned to Toronto after a few years and was invited to sing for a Toronto public school. Despite his own hesitations about singing for kids, he was an immediate success, and thus he began his career entertaining children.
After a seven-year gap in publishing, Raffi released an album, Let’s Play, in 2002. He moved to Saltspring Island near Victoria, British Columbia, in 2008.
Raffi is a member of the Canadian charity Artists Against Racism.
Once called “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world,” he is well loved by many children born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for his popular children’s songs. His autobiography, The Life of a Children’s Troubadour, documents the first part of his award-winning career. Some of Raffi’s best-known children’s songs are “Baby Beluga,” “Bananaphone,” “All I Really Need,” and “Down by the Bay.”
Most of Raffi’s children’s albums include small, simple, folk instrumentations featuring Raffi’s vocal and guitar work. Early works included contributions from Toronto-area folk musicians, including Ken Whiteley, The Honolulu Heartbreakers, and Bruce Cockburn. Raffi also incorporated many world music sounds into his records, including “Sambalele” (More Singable Songs, 1977) and “Anansi” (The Corner Grocery Store, 1979).
Raffi preferred to play in small intimate settings. In his autobiography he notes that he turned down a very lucrative offer to perform a concert at Madison Square Garden because he thought the venue was too large for him to connect to children. He also wrote that early in his career, he found it difficult to perform for kids under 3 years old because their short attention span was distracting to him and to the rest of the audience. This led to him taking a hiatus from children’s performing in the mid 1980s.
In 1989, his album Raffi In Concert With The Rise And Shine Band was listed on the RPM Top 100 Albums chart.
Raffi is currently the president of Troubadour Music Inc., a triple-bottom-line company he founded to produce and promote his work. He released recordings for a number of other artists, including Caitlin Hanford and Chris Whiteley.
As of 2017, Raffi has continued to perform and appears occasionally across Canada and the United States (per Wikipedia).
Here is Raffi performing “Brush Your Teeth”. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Treat your password like your toothbrush. Don’t let anybody else use it, and get a new one every six months.” – Clifford Stoll
Have a great day!
© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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