Pass me that boar bristle toothbrush, please: oral care 200 years ago

Pass me that boar bristle toothbrush, please: oral care 200 years ago

I’ve been writing here about oral care throughout the ages for some time now and today I want to talk about how people did it 200 years ago.

During the late 1700s and the early 1800s, not a lot had changed since medieval ages, and people still cleaned their teeth with ashes of burnt spices and herbs and rinsed with wine, vinegar or herbal infusions.

The only difference was that by then, dentistry was becoming both a business and a practice and people were trying to come up with ways of making extractions and other treatments less painful and more mechanical.

For example, the first dental chair was built of in the late 1700s and so was the first toothbrush. With a handle made of bone, it had boar bristles held together with wire, made to be used with tooth powders, that were already fairly popular by then.

This was also the time that the first dentures and gold crowns were invented, for those who could afford them. It’s interesting to note that tooth decay was more commonly found in people from higher social strata, who consumed a lot of sugar and more processed foods (by the time’s standards), as opposed to those who had no money to spend on such fancies and who consumed a lot of whole grains and raw vegetables.

Despite these amazing inventions, having an extraction was still a very painful and dangerous thing, and it’s very common to read descriptions of people who left the dentist chair with a broken jaw or severe infections.

The XIXth century was the time when dentistry started to grow into what we’ve come to practice today, and just so we can put everything into perspective, in 1800 Volta invented the first battery and in 1809 Davy invented the first electric light, only 20 years after the first toothbrush was made!


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