The History of Dental Hygiene

You use dental products every day to keep your teeth and gums healthy. The dental cleaning tools and techniques we use today are much different than those our ancestors used. Let’s take a look at the history of dental hygiene.


  • According to historians, the first people to use a toothbrush were the Hindus, in India, in about 4000 B.C. They chewed the frayed end of a twig to remove food particles and plaque from their teeth.
  • In 1780, William Addis created the first toothbrush while he was in jail. He tied horsehair into tufts and glued them to a small animal bone.
  • The design of the modern toothbrush was patented by H.N. Wadsworth in 1857.
  • In 1938, nylon bristles and plastic handles were invented. Nylon was less damaging to teeth and gums than was animal hair.
  • In 1939, Dr. Phillippe-Guy Woog invented the first electric toothbrush, called the Broxodent.
  • Today’s standard toothbrush has more than 25,000 bristles tied together in 40 groups of tufts.


  • Dental toothpaste has been used in China and India since 500 B.C.
  • In 1824, a dentist named Dr. Peabody added soap to toothpaste for the foaming and cleansing action.
  • During the 1850s, chalk, flavoring agents, and other compounds were added to toothpaste. Fluoride was added after World War II.


  • In 1815, a New Orleans dentist named Levi Spear Parmly told his patients to use a thin silk thread to clean between their teeth.
  • In 1882, floss was commercially manufactured by Codman and Shurtleft Company.
  • During the 1940s, a medical doctor named Charles Bass discovered that nylon was a better flossing material than silk. The silk often shredded when slid between teeth. Nylon was smoother and had a more consistent texture and resistance.
  • Flossing is important to clean between your teeth, but only 28 percent of people floss daily.

Dental treatments

  • Pierre Fauchard wrote the first complete scientific description of dentistry in 1728. He described basic oral anatomy, periodontal disease, orthodontics, decay, and restoring and replacing teeth.
  • Dr. Charles Bass is called the “Father of Preventive Dentistry” because he was the first person to emphasize the importance of oral hygiene.  He suggested that if people keep their teeth and gums clean, their teeth may not fall out.
  • Horace Wells developed the use of anesthesia and nitrous oxide to relive pain. In 1846, William Morton was the first person to use anesthesia for tooth extraction.
  • Joseph Lister performed the first surgery using antiseptic in the 1860s. He created a bacteria-killing formula to sterilize his tools and prevent infections.
  • In the 1880s, J.N. Farrar designed dental appliances and was the first person to use a gentle force to move teeth.

Dentistry is always changing. Dr. Stewart takes continuing education courses to provide patients with the newest advances and developments. Contact our dental office in Livonia, MI at 734.425.4400 to schedule an appointment to learn modern techniques for keeping your mouth healthy. We welcome patients from Farmington Hills, Plymouth, Dearborn Heights, and surrounding areas.