A toothbrush is a dental instrument used for cleaning teeth, ideally in conjunction with toothpaste or mouthwash. The toothbrush consists of a plastic handle and nylon bristles attached to the head of the brush. Contemporary designs offer a variety of styles and shapes in a market that has swelled to $600 million in the mid-1990s, in part because of price increases, but also because toothbrushes are replaced frequently. On average each person in the United States purchases three toothbrushes every two years, although the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that brushes be changed every three to four months. The best-selling toothbrushes during the 1990s were the Oral-B brand, produced by Gillette Co.; a range of toothbrushes from the Colgate Palmolive Co.; and the Reach toothbrush made by Johnson & Johnson.
Modern medical research has shown that brushing teeth properly can prevent cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal, or gum, disease, which causes at least one-third of adult tooth loss. Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up, forming a gelatinous film that coats the teeth and gums. Plaque consists of about 75% bacteria, and it grows quickly. If teeth are not brushed correctly and frequently, it could lead to the calcification of saliva minerals, forming tartar.
Brushing one's teeth has long been considered an important part of dental hygiene. As long ago as 3000 B.C. ancient Egyptians constructed crude toothbrushes from twigs and leaves to clean their teeth. Similarly, other cultures such as the Greeks, Romans, and Indians cleaned their teeth with twigs. Some would fray one end of the twig so that it could penetrate between the teeth more effectively. By the 15th century the Chinese had designed a more sophisticated toothbrush complete with a brush attached to a handle. A century later the English nobility were using toothbrushes fashioned out of silver.
Toothbrush design has gone through few substantial changes in its long history. Until the early 1900s, toothbrush bristles were generally made of Siberian hog hair. But in 1938, the soft-bristled Miracle Tuft Toothbrush was invented. Within a decade, Oral-B was mass producing soft-bristled toothbrushes. In 1961, the electric toothbrush was introduced. Beginning in the late 1970s, the toothbrush industry started churning out a variety of new designs. They included variations in bristle shape, size, and texture, as well as unconventional handle styles.
By the 1990s, countless styles of toothbrushes filled the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores, many claiming their superiority over other brands. Consumers could choose from toothbrushes with soft or hard bristles, with natural or synthetic bristles, and in a variety of sizes, colors, and configurations. For instance, the Reach toothbrush by Johnson & Johnson was the first toothbrush designed with an angled handle which was intended to make brushing back teeth easier. A later variation on the Reach brush included bristles in a zigzag design.
Colgate also offered an angled brush. One model, called Rippled Bristles, was designed to reach the plaque trapped between teeth. Gillette designed the Oral-B Indicator
An environmentally sound toothbrush was designed by Jack Hokanson. His Hoke2 brush featured a non-disposable handle with a replaceable bristle head. Some of the most uniquely shaped brushes include the Radius, which featured a wide handle designed for an easier grasp and a large, shoe-brush shaped head packed with bristles. The Collis Curve toothbrush featured bristles which curved inward so that they would hug the teeth, allowing the user to brush the front and back of the teeth at the same time.
Improvements in electric toothbrushes included battery-operated models, rotating heads, and tufts of rotating bristles. A hightech electronic toothbrush, called the Interplak, featured two rows of bristles with tufts that would spin at 4200 rpm, constantly reversing direction, and pulsating against the teeth. The Interplak, as its name suggests, was designed to remove plaque.
Although many dental experts believe that almost any type of soft-bristled brush is
Contemporary toothbrushes are produced mechanically. Generally, toothbrushes consist of plastic handles and nylon or natural boar bristles.
The American Dental Association tests a number of toothbrushes and other dental products each year. The ADA measures the efficiency and comfort of toothbrushes and those which meet with their standards are awarded the "ADA Seal of Acceptance." By the mid-1990s the ADA approved more than 45 different toothbrush brands.
"New Ways to Save Your Teeth?" Consumer Reports, August 1989, pp. 504-09.
Deveny, Kathleen. "Toothbrush Makers." The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 1991, pp.B1, B10.
—."Today's Toothbrushes." The Wall Street Journal, November 10, 1992, pp. B1, B9.
Higbee, Beth. "The Great Tooth-Brush-Off." Prevention, March 1994, pp. 53-55.
Pierson, John, "Form and Functions." The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 1991, p. B1.
— Audra Avizienis