Smiles for the masses

The past cen­tury has wit­nessed a rock­et­ing de­mand for tooth­brushes – and den­tures

BBC History Magazine - - A History Of Teeth -

Chew sticks and other teeth clean­ing im­ple­ments have been in use since an­cient times, but the first mass-pro­duced tooth­brushes were in­tro­duced in the late 18th cen­tury – the brain­child of English­man Wil­liam Ad­dis.

“Ad­dis tooth­brushes com­bined a bone han­dle with boar or badger hair for bris­tles”, says Scot­tDear­ing. “Al­though the prod­uct ini­tially proved pop­u­lar with the wealthy, it wasn’t un­til the 20th cen­tury that reg­u­lar teeth clean­ing be­came the norm.” Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Den­tal Jour­nal, by 1939 the con­sump­tion of tooth­brushes was 25 mil­lion a year – around one for ev­ery two peo­ple in Bri­tain.

Tooth­brushes were made by hand – as seen in this pho­to­graph of women work­ing in an Ad­dis tooth­brush fac­tory in the 1920s – un­til 1935, when bris­tles be­gan to be made out of ny­lon.

“The for­ma­tion of the NHS in 1948 was an­other land­mark mo­ment in den­tal his­tory”, says Scott-Dear­ing. “For the first time med­i­cal, den­tal and nurs­ing care were pro­vided with no charge.

“De­mand for den­tures mas­sively ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions: within the first nine months of the ser­vice, the NHS had pro­vided 33 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual ar­ti­fi­cial teeth – a fig­ure that rose to 66 mil­lion per an­num over the next three years.”

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