PNG images: Toothbrush

The toothbrush is an oral hygiene instrument used to clean the teeth, gums, and tongue. It consists of a head of tightly clustered bristles mounted on a handle which facilitates the cleaning of hard to reach areas of the mouth.

Toothbrushes are available with different bristle textures, sizes, and forms. Most dentists recommend using a soft toothbrush since hard bristled toothbrushes can damage tooth enamel and irritate the gums.

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Before the invention of the toothbrush a variety of oral hygiene measures had been used. This has been verified by excavations 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 frayed ends used to brush the teeth while the other end was used as a toothpick. The earliest chew sticks were discovered in SumerMesopotamia 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. Miswaks have been used by Muslims since 7th century.

Modern toothbrush originated in China. The first bristle toothbrush resembling the modern one was found in China. Used during the Tang Dynasty (619–907), it consisted of hog bristles. The bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and northern China because the colder temperatures provided firmer bristles. They were attached to a handle manufactured from bamboo or bone, forming a toothbrush. In 1223, Japanese Zen master DōgenKigen recorded on Shōbōgenzō that he saw monks in China clean their teeth with brushes made of horsetail hairs attached to an oxbone handle. The bristle toothbrush spread to Europe, brought 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 imported from China too firm and preferred softer bristle toothbrushes made from horsehair. Mass produced toothbrushes made with horse or boar bristle continued to be imported to England from China until the mid 20th century.

 

'Indexo' finger toothbrush, New York, United States, 1901–1919. It is made entirely of rubber, which has been shaped to fit over the index finger.

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 using a rag with soot and salt on the teeth was ineffective and could be improved. After saving a small bone from a meal, he drilled small holes into the bone and tied into the bone tufts of bristles that he had obtained from one of the guards, passed the tufts of bristle through the holes in the bone and sealed the holes with glue. After his release, he became wealthy after starting a business manufacturing toothbrushes. He died in 1808, bequeathing the business to his eldest son. It remained within 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 bristles were 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 (U.S.A. Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States did not start until 1885. The improved 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 retained bacteria, did not desiccate efficiently and the bristles were often extricated from their intended fixed insertions. In addition to bone, 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 gradually replaced bone handles. 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. By 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 1977. It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth; the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing) materials; and the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles to better clean between teeth[citation needed]. The Reach toothbrush was the first to have a specialised design intended to increase its effectiveness. Other models from other manufacturers soon followed. Each of these had unique design features intended to be more effective than the previous design.

In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.

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