Different Strokes for Different Folks: A History of the Toothbrush

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Ward’s bone-handled toothbrush

Although metal, wood, horn and ivory were occasionally chosen for making a toothbrush handle, most often the thighbones of cattle were used. These bones were strong enough to withstand the bristle drawing process without splitting, when the brush later became wet during use. Some early toothbrushes were made with horsetail, goat or badger hair, but boar hair was used prevalently. The boar hair, when frayed, provided adequate friction to clean tooth enamel. Tooth contours and crevices could be followed closely by the stiff yet flexible fibers, and even gum stimulation was obtainable with proper use.

Mattick, BE 2010 A guide to bone toothbrushes of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corp; Wynbrandt, J 1998 The Excruciating History of Dentistry. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

This circa 1930s polished bone, natural white bristle toothbrush (A148.8), with a short head and four tuft rows, may have been created with gum health in mind. Designer and periodontist Dr. A. W. Ward’s name, "Warranteed Russian Bristle," and "Sterilized" are inscribed on the handle.
Donor: Unknown
Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

View of the head. Green discoloration at the bristle bases indicates they were drawn with wire.
Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

Ward's bone-handled toothbrush

View of the back. Grooves on the stock back indicate the four rows of tufts were drawn with wire.
Wire-drawn bristles

Wire-drawn bristles

Illustration of the wire drawing method of inserting bristles (Reproduced with permission from author Barbara E. Mattick, A guide to bone toothbrushes of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Copyright 2010 by Barbara E. Mattick.)
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