The toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth and gums that consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles mounted on a handle, which facilitates the cleansing of hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. Toothpaste, which often contains fluoride, is commonly used in conjunction with a toothbrush to increase the effectiveness of tooth brushing. Toothbrushes are available with different bristle textures, sizes and forms. Most dentists recommend using a toothbrush labelled "soft", since hard bristled toothbrushes can damage tooth enamel and irritate the gums. The predecessor of the toothbrush, the chew stick, first appeared in Egypt and Babylonia, and the earliest bristle toothbrush, the direct predecessor to the modern toothbrush, originated in China. Toothbrushes were introduced to Europe through merchants and travelers in East Asia by the 17th century. DuPont introduced the nylon toothbrush in the 1930s.
A variety of oral hygiene measures have been used since before recorded history prior to the toothbrush. 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 predecessor of the toothbrush is the chew stick. Chew sticks were twigs with a frayed end used to brush against the teeth, while the other end was used as a toothpick. The earliest chew sticks were discovered in Babylonia in 3500 BC, an Egyptian tomb dating from 3000 BC, and mentioned in Chinese records dating from 1600 BC. The Greeks and Romans used toothpicks to clean their teeth and toothpick-like twigs have been excavated in Qin Dynasty tombs. Chew sticks remain common in Africa; the rural Southern United States - and in the Islamic world the use of chewing stick Miswak is considered a pious action, and has been prescribed to be used before every prayer five times a day. Miswak has been used by Muslims since 7th Century AD.
The first bristle toothbrush, resembling the modern toothbrush, was found in China during the Tang Dynasty (619–907) and used hog bristle. The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were then attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. In 1223, Japanese Zen master Dōgen Kigen recorded on Shōbōgenzō that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horse-tail hairs attached to an ox-bone handle. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought back from China to Europe by travellers. It was adopted in Europe during the 17th century. 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. Europeans found the hog bristle toothbrushes exported from merchants in China too firm, and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes manufactured from horsehair. Mass-produced toothbrushes, made with horse or boar bristle, continued to be imported to England from China until the mid-20th century.
In Europe, 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 – was ineffective and could be improved. To that end, he saved a small animal bone left over from the meal he had eaten the previous night, into which he drilled small holes. He then obtained some bristles from one of his guards, which he tied in tufts that he then passed through the holes in the bone, and which he finally sealed with glue. After his release, he started a business that would manufacture the toothbrushes he had built, and he soon became very rich. He died in 1808, and left the business to his eldest son, also called William, and it stayed in family ownership until 1996. Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. 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 granted to H. N. Wadsworth in 1857 (US Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States only started in 1885. The rather advanced design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Unfortunately, animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retains bacteria and does not dry well, and the bristles often fell out. In addition to bone, sometimes handles were made of wood or ivory. In the United States, brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily.
During the 1900s, celluloid handles gradually replaced bone handles in toothbrushes. Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush, made with nylon yarn, went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was invented in Switzerland in 1954. As of the turn of the 21st century, nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles, and the handles were usually molded from thermoplastic materials.
Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical-supplies firm, introduced the "Reach" toothbrush in the middle 1980s. It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: First, it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth; second, the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially carigenic (cavity-causing) materials; and third, the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles, to clean between teeth. The Reach toothbrush was the first to have a specialized design intended to increase its effectiveness. Other models, from other manufacturers, soon followed; each of these had unique design features intended to be, and promoted as being, more effective than the basic toothbrush design that had been employed for years.
Types of toothbrush
An electric toothbrush performs oscillations or rotations of its bristles, driven by a motor. Most studies report a medical performance equal to the one of manual brushes, the electric version can be more comfortable, and an additional timer and pressure sensors can encourage a correct cleaning process.
Electric toothbrushes can be classified according to the speed of their movements as standard power toothbrushes, sonic toothbrushes or ultrasonic toothbrushes. Any electric toothbrush is technically a power toothbrush. If the motion of the toothbrush is sufficiently rapid to produce a hum in the audible frequency range (20Hz to 20,000Hz), it can be classified as a sonic toothbrush. Any electric toothbrush with movement faster than this limit can be classified as an ultrasonic toothbrush. Certain ultrasonic toothbrushes, such as the Megasonex and the Ultreo, have both sonic and ultrasonic movements.
An interdental or interproximal ("proxy") brush is a small brush, typically disposable, either supplied with a reusable angled plastic handle or an integral handle, used for cleaning between teeth and between the wire of dental braces and the teeth.
There are evidences that, after tooth brushing with a conventional tooth brush, interdental brushes remove more plaque than dental floss.
Brushes are available in a range of widths ranked from 1 to 7, color-coded as per ISO 16409. Interdental brushes are classified according to ISO standard 16409:2006. The ISO brush size is determined by the PHD or Passage Hole Diameter in mm. This PHD is the minimum diameter of a hole that the interdental brush will pass through without deforming the brush wire stem.
|Brush Color (coded as per ISO 16409)||Brush Size||Wire Size||Passage Hole Diameter (PHD)|
|Red||2||0.5mm||0.9 mm-1.0 mm|
|Blue||3||0.6mm||1.1 mm-1.2 mm|
|Yellow||4||0.7mm||1.3 mm-1.5 mm|
|Green||5||0.8mm||1.6 mm-1.8 mm|
A Sulcabrush is a type of toothbrush used specifically for cleaning along the gumline adjacent to the teeth. The bristles are usually shaped in a pointed arrow pattern to allow closer adaptation to the gums. A Sulcabrush is ideal for cleaning specific difficult-to-reach areas, such as between crowns, bridgework and crowded teeth. End-tufted brushes may also be used around fixed orthodontic appliances, such as braces.
The small round brush head comprises seven tufts of tightly packed soft nylon bristles, trimmed so the bristles in the center can reach deeper into small spaces. The brush handle is ergonomically designed for a firm grip, giving the control and precision necessary to clean where most other cleaning aids cannot reach. These areas include the posterior of the wisdom teeth (third molars), orthodontic structures (braces), crowded teeth, and tooth surfaces that are next to missing teeth. It can also be used to clean areas around implants, bridges, dentures and other appliances.
A chewable toothbrush is a miniature plastic moulded toothbrush which can be placed inside the mouth. While not commonly used they are useful to travelers and are sometimes available from bathroom vending machines. They are available in different flavors such as mint or bubblegum and should be disposed of after use. Other types of disposable toothbrushes include those that contain a small breakable plastic ball of toothpaste on the bristles, which can be used without water.
Traditionally, toothbrushes are made of plastic. Such brushes constitute a small source of pollution. In order to reduce the environmental impact, some manufacturers have switched to using biodegradable materials and/or use replaceable heads.
Adversity of toothbrushes
Teeth can be damaged by several factors including poor oral hygiene, but also by wrong oral hygiene. Especially for sensitive teeth dentin and gums damages can be prevented by several measures including a correct brushing technique.
It is beneficial not to scrub horizontally over the necks of teeth, pressing the brush not too hard against the teeth, not choosing a tooth paste that is too abrasive, and maintain a waiting time of 30 minutes minimum after consumption of acidic food or drinks before brushing. Harder tooth brushes reduce plaque more efficiently but are more stressful to teeth and gum, using a medium to soft tooth brush for a longer cleaning time was rated to be the best compromise between cleaning result and gum and tooth health.
A study by University College London found that advice on brushing technique and frequency given by 10 national dental associations, toothpaste and toothbrush companies, and in dental textbooks was inconsistent.
Hygiene and care
- It is not recommended to share toothbrushes with others since besides general hygienic concerns there is a risk of transmitting diseases that are typically transmittable by blood, like Hepatitis C.
- After use it is advisable to rinse the toothbrush with water, shake it off and let the toothbrush dry.
- Bent and worn out bristles of a toothbrush lead to decreased cleaning efficiency. It is therefore recommended to change it for a new one when it appears to be worn out (roughly after 6–16 weeks).
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