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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: Toothbrushes

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about toothbrushes through the ages, as we celebrate the anniversary of the first nylon toothbrush.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

[Raffi, "Brush Your Teeth"]

CURWOOD: If you have dreamt of living in another time, say in Babylon, ancient Greece or during the Ming Dynasty, there is something you should consider as a time traveler - pack your toothbrush. Those nylon bristles that scrub up your pearly whites haven't been around all that long. It was during this week, in 1938, that DuPont introduced the first nylon-bristled brush. But dental care wasn't always so refined. The ancient Greeks chewed balls of wool dipped in honey to clean their teeth. Europeans of old used toothpicks of goose feathers and silver. And, beginning about 1400 years ago, people in China made toothbrush bristles by plucking the neck hairs of the Siberian wild boar. Visitors to the region thought it was a great idea, and the tooth brush bristles spread around the world. Now, if you've lost your brush and can't find a wild boar, just pick up a twig.

SWANK: You just take that stick and remove the bark from one end, and you can use a rock to mash it, to get the fibers of the wood individualized.

CURWOOD: Dr. Scott Swank, with the National Museum of Dentistry, says the chew stick dates from Babylonian times, but people still use them in parts of Africa and rural America. In ancient Rome, members of the upper class had special slaves to clean their teeth, but the taste of luxury ended there. Recipes for ancient toothpastes include burnt shells, talc, and lizard livers. Ah, lizard liver. Just the right taste for a kiss. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.




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