before toothbrushes and toothpaste were invented, how did people brush their teeth?

before toothbrushes and toothpaste were invented, how did people brush their teeth?
or did they bother?

Answer by cinnea
Some used makeshift toothbrushes, some did not. Many cultural used certain kinds of wood to chew on to clean their teeth. It was largely cultural, and somewhat based on economic class. Read the history section on Wikipedia. It’s really interesting!

Answer by Jack
I believe people used rags as toothbrushes and toothpaste was simply salt (about 70 yers ago). But before that, people used things such as honey as toothpaste (but thats going way back) and powdered mice ( even longer ago). Sometimes, people would chew sticks or herbs (still used in some parts of the world) instead of using brushes.

Answer by poornakumar b
In India it has always been the twigs of some trees (Neem or ‘Margosa’ is the favourite, still) with end crushed under the teeth to form a brush. It is partly returning now with some people discovering virtues of age-old Ayurvedic system of medicine. Where the ‘tall’ palms abound with palm-like huge leaves (reaching up to four feet across), its bits of dried brittle leaves like a stiiff paper, are used as ‘tongue-cleaners’ now replaced by plastic ones in the market place.


  1. gee bee says

    In Jean Auel’s book series The Clan of the Cave Bear, the hero wakes up in the morning and cuts himself a finger-thick clean twig and frays and wets the end and uses that as a toothbrush.

    Horsehair toothbrush said to have been used by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
    A variety of oral hygiene measures have been used since before recorded history. This has been verified by various excavations done all over the world, in which chew sticks, tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills were recovered. The first toothbrush recorded in history was made in 3000 BC, a twig with a frayed end called a chew stick.

    Various forms of toothbrush have been used. Indian medicine (Ayurveda) used the twigs of the neem or banyan tree to make toothbrushes and other oral-hygiene-related products for millennia. The end of a neem twig is chewed until it is soft and splayed, and it is then used to brush the teeth. In the Muslim world, chewing miswak, the roots or twigs of the Arak tree (Salvadora persica), which have antiseptic properties, is common practice. Rubbing baking soda or chalk against the teeth has also been common practice in history.

    In 1223, Japanese Zen master D?gen Kigen recorded on Sh?b?genz? that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horse-tail hairs attached to an ox-bone handle.

    For the origin of modern toothbrush,according to a Library of Congress website, the Chinese have used the bristle toothbrush since 1498, during the reign of the Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1487–1505) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). It is thought that the Chinese version of the toothbrush spread to Europe, brought back from China to Europe by travellers.[2] This is the origin of modern toothbrush. Library of Congress website also adds that the toothbrush was not mass-produced until 1780, when they were sold by a William Addis of Clerkenwald, England.

    A photo from 1899 showing the use of a toothbrush.
    The earliest identified use of the word toothbrush in English was in the autobiography of Anthony Wood, who wrote in 1690 that he had bought a toothbrush from J. Barret.

    William Addis of England is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. In 1770 he had been jailed for causing a riot; while in prison he decided that the method used to clean teeth – at the time rubbing a rag with soot and salt on the teeth – could be improved, so he took a small animal bone, drilled small holes in it, obtained some bristles from a guard, tied them in tufts, passed the tufts through the holes on the bone, and glued them. He soon became very rich. He died in 1808, and left the business to his eldest son, also called William; the company continues to this day under the name of Wisdom Toothbrushes. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in England, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristle was used for cheaper toothbrushes, and badger hair for the more expensive ones.

    The first patent for a toothbrush was by H. N. Wadsworth in 1857 (US Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the USA only started in 1885. The rather advanced design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retains bacteria and does not dry well, and the bristles often fell out. In the USA brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily

  2. Louise C says

    In England in the medieval and early modern period, they rubbed their teeth with a cloth. there were various preparations for cleaning teeth. In The english Housewife (1617) there is a recipe for a tooth cleaning mixture:

    ‘Take a saucer of strong vinegar, and two spoonfuls of the powder of roche alum, a spoonful of white salt, and a spoonful of honey; seethe all these till it be thin as water, then put it into a close vial, and keep it, and when occasion serves wash your teeth therewith, with a rough cloth, and rub them soundly, but not to bleed.