Before Toothbrushes: A History of Dentistry

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Proper oral health is a big part of our modern lives. And with good reason! Without a healthy mouth, all sorts of health issues crop up, from increased risk of heart disease to a risk of dangerous infection. We brush our teeth to keep our mouths healthy, to maintain our general well-being and happiness.

What did people do before toothbrushes?

People have been around for a very long time, and throughout it all, we’ve needed to take care of our mouths. Different groups of people from around the world have used different methods, but all of them suggest the same thing: Humans have always thought that taking care of our teeth was important!

According to the University of Michigan’s school of dentistry, some of the first records of tooth-care in the western world were Assyrian clay tablets, describing contemporary teeth-cleaning procedures. Toothpicks have likewise been found in other archaeological sites from around the same time period. From there, several Greek philosophers and physicians spoke about oral hygiene, including Aristotle and Hippocrates, who recommended mildly abrasive powders to clean teeth.

Arabian surgeon Albucasis wrote about oral hygiene in the early 1000’s, mentioning the collection of tartar on the teeth. He is credited with designing a number of scraping tools for the removal of tartar and plaque–the whole set featured 14 total designs, to completely clean the mouth. Beyond toothpicks, scraping, and dentifrice powders, the average person would use a rag to wipe down their teeth, and possibly a solution of water and strong drinking alcohol to rinse their mouths.

The Rise of Modern Dentistry

It wasn’t until 1728 when a Frenchman named Pierre Fauchard wrote ‘The Surgeon Dentist: A Treatise on Teeth’ that we begin to see modern dentistry take hold–though, interestingly enough, he advocated against brushing, in favor of using a toothpick or a sponge. From there, we see the development of flossing in 1819, with Levi Spear Parmley’s Practical Guide to the Management of Teeth, to the discovery of microorganisms that affect tooth decay by Willoughby D. Miller in 1882.

Our modern toothbrush wouldn’t show up until around 1930, with the invention of nylon. From there, fluoridation of drinking water and the invention of modern toothpaste (as opposed to tooth powder) would combine to give us the foundation of our modern, everyday tooth care!

We’ve certainly come a long way since the beginning of oral hygiene! If you’re looking for the best that cosmetic dentistry has to offer, why not contact us? Representing the cutting-edge of modern dentistry, Austin Dentist Dr. Matthews can help you take your teeth into the 21st century!


Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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