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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article September 2012- Inventing the toothbrush


September 2012


I debated saving this question for next year’s ‘Dr. Davis Trivia Challenge’ but some things are just too important to withhold.  So here it is.  What object is the common tie that binds together the ancient Chinese (1600 BC), Japanese Zen Master Dgen Kigen (1223), British antiquitarian Anthony Wood (1690), William Addis (1780), H.N. Wadsworth (1857),  and Maineville, Ohio’s 12 yr. old Dane Dobereiner?  The answer is the “toothbrush”!

Indeed a historical writing dating to roughly 1600 BC is the first known mention of a stick with a frayed brush-like end used to enhance oral hygiene.  By 1223 Japanese Zen master Dgen Kigen wrote that he observed Chinese monks using ox-bone and horse-tail hair brushes on their teeth.  It was in his autobiography that in 1690 British antiquitarian Anthony Wood first used the word “toothbrush” to describe our tufted tooth scrubbers.  During the 1770’s British prisoner William Addis drilled holes in a bone from one of his jailhouse meals, begged some bristles from one of the guards, and glued tufts of the bristles into the holes in the bone.  After his prison release Addis started the first business known to mass produce tooth brushes and died a very rich man.  American H.N. Wadsworth was the first to patent a tooth brush design in 1857 (US Patent No. 18,653).  It wasn’t until the 20th century that synthetic materials replaced bone and animal-based bristles to pave the way toward the tooth brushes of today. 

And speaking of today…  yes, today was the first day of 7th grade at Kings Junior High for 12 yr. old Dane Dobereiner.  Dane was just ten when he embraced the challenge to share his inventing skills at Cincinnati’s first ever Invention Convention.  His invention was a toothbrush design crafted to brush three sides of the teeth simultaneously.  Dane used Styrofoam and bristles from assorted household cleaning brushes and brooms to craft his 3 ft. prototype.  The longer bristles were used on the parts of the brush that would be responsible for cleaning around the gumline.  “I spend two minutes brushing my teeth”, Dane told me.  “If I had a brush like my prototype I could do it three-times faster!”

When all eighty of the inventions had been studied and the dust had settled at the convention it was Dane who was awarded the Grand Prize, a handsome light-bulb shaped trophy and a $2,500.00 college scholarship!  With open eyes and awareness that I can’t keep up this dental gig forever, I asked Dane if he might want to be a dentist some day.  “No”, he said.  “I’ve got some ideas on some other inventions and I really want most of all to be an actor.” 

Well Dane, I’m proud to be your dentist and delighted that your first invention ever was an improvement on the toothbrush.  Somewhere the spirits of some old Chinese, Japanese, British and American guys are smiling at you with clean teeth! 

Tagged In: Matchbox Toys, Amalgam, Anthropology, Antibiotic Premedication, Artificial Joints Dental Care

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