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Toothbrushing looks pretty much the same in the entire world right now. Children are taught to brush their teeth twice a day from a young age, to try and use floss, and maybe even do some tongue cleaning and a mouthwash if necessary. But what about people who do not have access to the same kind of education and resources a lot of us take for granted? What about the people who live in the heartlands of Africa and India? A brush and some toothpaste are considered a luxury in some areas, while traditional methods of brushing still run strong through other cultures. Some people simply do not see the need to switch over from what their parents, grandparents and everyone around them uses.
Does this mean that these people have absolutely terrible oral hygiene? Are all their teeth rotting?
What about people all over the world before the toothbrush was invented? The first toothbrush as we know it now was probably fashioned by an English convict with the help of a piece of bone, some gum and some hog bristles in the late 18th century. That is actually relatively recent when you consider the time humans have spent on this planet. The patent for the modern toothbrush design was awarded to H.N Wadsworth in the year 1857, and these brushes remained a novelty item until the invention of Nylon almost 70 years later.
So how was oral hygiene practiced before all this?
The Chew stick
Cultures across the world turned to nature to provide them the tools to clean their teeth. The traditional method of brushing actually did not require much brushing at all! It involved chewing on soft wood from trees to clean the teeth and even fight bad odor. It is believed to have been used by the Babylonian civilization, the Greeks, and Romans. The Egyptians used it during the peak of their civilizations and its use still continues in Africa, the Middle East and Asia in extremely large numbers. Chew sticks were made from a number of different tree branches and twigs, depending upon the geographical availability.
Miswak (Salvadora persica) in particular is considered to be the most ideal kind of chew stick. It is extremely popular with the Muslim population in Asia and the Middle East.
The Europeans were believed to have used the chew stick as a method of oral hygiene, however it was never as popular in their culture as it was around the world. The Chinese, who are considered to be the first people to have started using a rudimentary toothbrush made out of hog hair bristles also have some evidence of using the chew stick, probably as a result of their interaction with the civilizations from the Indian subcontinent.