Although modern dentistry is a high-tech field it has ancient origins that stretch all the way back to ancient Samaria. The history of teeth cleaning reveals just how far we have come… and that some things never change.
An ancient Sumerian text from circa 5000 BCE attributes dental problems to “tooth worms”. While the author may have missed the mark, it is the earliest description of the history of dentistry that we have found.
The history of toothpaste also begins around 5000 BCE in Egypt long before any evidence of toothbrushes is found. Ancient toothpaste made by the Egyptians and later Romans was often made from ashes, eggshells, crushed bones, oyster shells, bark and charcoal.
It is believed that various people from around the world have used “chew sticks” to clean their teeth since around 3000BC (or even earlier), making the chew stick the first incarnation in the history of the toothbrush. Tombs of ancient Egyptians have been found containing these sticks.
The tomb of an Egyptian scribe named Hesy-Re reads “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians” identifying him as the first dentist that we know of.
Findings reveal that the ancient Romans believed that the god Aesculapius (god of medicine and healing) promoted oral hygiene.
Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine, advises the use of a dentifrice powder for cleaning teeth.
The history of toothpaste takes a fresh direction, as people in ancient China start using toothpaste flavoured with ginseng, herbs, and salt.
The first toothbrushes were invented in China and consisted of coarse boar hair attached to bone or bamboo handles.
The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth is published in Germany, making it the first book entirely about dentistry.
Pierre Fauchard, considered by many to be the father of modern medicine publishes The Surgical Dentist.
William Addis in England releases the first mass-produced toothbrush. These toothbrushes were much the same as their Chinese counterparts, made of carved bone and pig hair bristles.
James Snell creates the first modern dental chair.
The first non-powder toothpaste is invented, it was called Crème Dentifrice and came in a jar.
Tube toothpaste is invented, allowing it to be mass-produced more quickly.
Nylon bristles finally replace animal hair to make the first modern toothbrush.
Until just after 1945 toothpaste still contained soap, but was eventually replaced by more effective ingredients.
The history of toothpaste, the history of the toothbrush, and the history of teeth cleaning overall, borrowed aspects from all cultures throughout history from around the world. Today, modern dentistry owes much to the ideas (and mistakes) of its ancient roots.