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Wood toothpicks
Bamboo Toothpick

A toothpick is a small stick of wood, plastic, bamboo, metal, bone or other substance used to remove detritus from the teeth, usually after a meal. A toothpick usually has one or two sharp ends to insert between teeth. They can come in both wood and plastic, and can also be used for picking up small appetizers (like cheese cubes or olives) or as a cocktail stick.

American wooden toothpicks are cut from birch wood. Logs are first spiral cut into thin sheets, which are then cut, chopped, milled and bleached (to lighten) into the individual toothpicks.[1] Maine used to be the leading producer of toothpicks for the United States. The last toothpick plant in Maine closed in 2003.[2]


The toothpick is known to predate the arrival of early modern humans. The skulls of Neanderthals, as well as Homo sapiens, have shown clear signs of having teeth that were picked with a tool.

It is the oldest instrument for dental cleaning. Toothpicks are well known in all cultures. Before the toothbrush was invented, teeth were cleaned with hard and soft dental woods. Toothpicks made of bronze have been found as burial objects in prehistoric graves in Northern Italy and in the East Alps. It was also well known in Mesopotamia.

There are delicate, artistic examples made of silver in antiquity, as well as from mastic wood with the Romans.

In the 17th century toothpicks were luxury objects similar to jewelry items. They were formed from precious metal and set with expensive stones. Frequently they were artistically stylized and enameled.

The first toothpick-manufacturing machine was developed in 1869, by Charles Forster.[3] Another was patented in 1872, by Silas Noble and J. P. Cooley.[4]

Nowadays other means of dental hygiene are preferred such as dental floss and toothbrushes.

Toothpicks are also used for festive occasions, and are commonly used to spear appetizers. Often, these toothpicks are decorated with plastic frills or small paper flags.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ How It's Made: "Toothpicks; acrylic bathtubs; helicopters; beer." The Discovery Channel.
  2. ^ "Maine's Last Toothpick Rolls Off Line, Plant Closes." As Maine Goes. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <>.
  3. ^ Charles Forster Fathered The Toothpick Industry
  4. ^ History of the Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  5. ^ "The Marketing Genius Who Brought Us the Toothpick." Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <>.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Video - how toothpicks are manufactured