The history of the humble toothbrush and why we need to switch
Toothbrushes have come a long way in 2000 years but now we need to consider ditching plastic toothbrushes and being eco friendly
If you use a plastic toothbrush, you are a part of the sing-use plastic problem. Over the years, the design of the toothbrush has changed very little, but the biggest difference is the fact that they are usually made out of plastic and that plastic unfortunately ends up in the world around us.
Before today’s toothbrushes were invented, people turned to nature to keep their teeth clean- twigs, feathers, bones, and even the quills of a porcupine were used to brush away food debris. People also used so-called ‘chew sticks’ which had frayed ends that were used to brush the teeth and a sharp end that was used as a toothpick. Devices such as these were used by Romans, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks and Islamic cultures but it was said to have its real origins in China, during the Tang Dynasty between 619-907.
It consisted of a bamboo handle with hog bristles coming out of the top. By 1223, they had upgraded to oxbone and then the concept spread to Europe and became popular during the 17th Century. The first recorded mention of a toothbrush was in 1690 and the harsh hoghair had been replaced with softer horsehair. Unfortunately, they didn’t take on as many preferred to use a rag covered in soot and salt, thinking that this was more effective.
The first mass produced toothbrush in the UK was made by a man called William Addis in 1780 and was made out of an animal bone and bits of bristle. He was in prison at the time he invented it and when he was released, he started his own business “Wisdom Toothbrushes” who to this day, make around 70 million each year.
By the 1900s celluloid replaced bon handles and animal bristles were replaced by nylon and the first plastic bristle brush went on sale in 1938 with the first electric toothbrush going on the market twenty years later.
Today, it is one of the items that most of us just cannot live without, but this is causing a bit of a problem.
In the UK we throw away some 264 million toothbrushes every year and in the US this number rises to some 1 billion in the US. The number of toothbrushes being made and thrown away each year has grown steadily since the very first one was made back in the 1930s
The plastic that these brushes are made of is not biodegradable and instead breaks down into smaller microplastics that pollute our beaches, rivers, and oceans. We need to cut back on our usage and switch to a more sustainable option, and that is where we come in!
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