The first toothbrush that resembled what we’re used to with a handle and bristles was discovered in China around 650 A.D. It took about a thousand years before it would become a more common item that was mass produced in Europe.
The first patent in the U.S. for a toothbrush was in 1857 but one of the problems is that the bristles were made out of animal hair which sometimes came with bacteria and caused various illnesses. The handle of the brush was usually made out of bone, wood, or ivory. DuPont used their technology to create what would be the first modern toothbrush with nylon bristles and a plastic handle back in 1938.
It may be surprising to know that popular use around the U.S. of toothbrushes didn’t occur until around WWII. It started with the military as doctors realized oral hygiene would help keep soldiers on active duty and not laid up because of tooth problems. Soldiers were issued a toothbrush in their hygiene kit and were told to brush their teeth daily. Many people in upper-society were already brushing their teeth but when the soldiers came home they brought its usage into the lower income demographics across America.
Switzerland came out with the first electric toothbrush in 1954 followed by Bristol Myers and General Electric in the U.S. in the 1960’s. Sales were dismal and it wasn’t until Sonicare came along in the 80’s with a marketing strategy of educating consumers through dentists as to its effectiveness that electronic toothbrushes began making ground.
Oral-B saw how much money Sonicare was making and jumped into the market. They were able to take advantage of all the marketing Sonicare did on their own and through dentists (many dentists were selling Sonicare brushes), as to why electric toothbrushes were so effective and came in offering a less expensive option; a Sonicare toothbrush cost around $149 dollars at the time. Its high cost was the main reason most consumers who were interested in Sonicare didn’t buy one.
Even though sales of electric toothbrushes have been increasing through the years as prices have come down, most competitors have shied away because of the costs of entry into the market (i.e. manufacturing, marketing, etc.), so both Oral-B and Sonicare still own the market in the U.S.
The first real change to the regular toothbrush design was provided by Johnson & Johnson in 1977 with their Reach Toothbrush. It had a curved handle that looked like a dental instrument and make it easier to move the brush around the mouth. Out of all the changes that have been made (i.e. differing sizes of bristles, colored bristles that lets us know when to throw it away, a toothpick placed at the end of the handle, batter operated brushes, etc.), the Reach toothbrush with their innovate handle design, is still the most innovative change. Since then all kinds of crazy designs have come along with Oral-B being the biggest innovator and owning the manual toothbrush market.