History of the Toothbrush and Making The Switch to Bamboo Toothbrushes

bamboo toothbrush

“The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth.” – Chief Seattle

A few days ago I posted on GrateFull Eats and discussed my new bamboo straws, today I’m talking about bamboo toothbrushes! If you haven’t read my post on straws yet, you should go here: Why I Ditched Plastic Straws for Bamboo Straws

This post will discuss how the modern toothbrush came into existence and the basics of a bamboo handle toothbrush.

Before I get into the history of toothbrushes, I want to share that in 2003, a survey conducted by MIT showed participants ranking the toothbrush as the number one invention Americans cannot live without. Among the list of inventions to chose from were the toothbrush, the car, PC, the cellular phone, and microwave.

Wow, just let that soak in…

bamboo toothbrush
Modern Bamboo Toothbrush

The History of Toothbrushes

Humans have been cleaning their mouth and teeth for a long time. The first tool used to clean teeth were twigs. Yes, really! Twigs called chewing sticks. Salvadora persica, also known as miswak, is the tree ‘chewing sticks’ are harvested from. Using these can prevent tooth decay and gum disease without the need for toothpaste. This is why cultures in Africa still use them today. It’s an eco-friendly alternative that is beneficial to those who lack the resources for proper dental care.


chewing sticks
Chewing sticks

The first documented bristled toothbrush came from China in 1223. Bamboo was used to form the handles and coarse boars hair was used for bristles. Still though, Europe was using chewing sticks and the greek method of rubbing your teeth with a linen cloth on a stick, dipped in salt and sulfur oils. The transition to a modern toothbrush started happening after William Addis got out of prison in the 1700s. While he was incarcerated, he found that cleaning his teeth with rags and abrasives was unpleasant and unsanitary for his housing conditions. He was inspired to create a design from bone and broom bristles.


Proto-type toothbrush designs

Excited to share this new found method of maintaining oral hygiene, Addis started making toothbrushes commercially in 1780. This caught on quickly with the rise in consumer sugar and with the military creating hygiene standards for their soldiers. Toothbrushes became popularized and mass produced by 1840, but the first toothbrush design patent wasn’t until 1857. The bone handle received a fairly quick death though after nylon became invented in 1935.




Why did we ever stop using natural toothbrushes?

In a period of wartime rationing, bones could be used to create nutritious soups and stews. Due to this, bones became phased out of toothbrush manufacturing, and a new material took the spotlight. Nylon polymers.

This material is easy and inexpensive to produce while being durable; the reason many environmentally detrimental materials, such as plastic, are still around today. Nylon became used for bristles. It offers a material that harbors and grows fewer bacteria than the traditional animal hair bristle brush.

Celluloid, the first synthetic plastic material, became used to make the toothbrush handles. Celluloid became replaced by thermoplastic materials; plastic polymer materials that are pliable above specific temperatures and hardens upon cooling. These thermoplastic materials were even cheaper and easier to manufacture. Bigger dental companies such as Crest and Colgate use thermoplastic materials to this day.

Cheap, easy to produce, durable junk…

This is what toothbrushes have become. Junk is a word chosen carefully because while we do value toothbrushes and good oral hygiene, we do not need to produce more plastic-like materials that will forever be in existence. Toothbrushes are junk for as long as they are not actively being used. The average life of a toothbrush is 1-3 months. Then what? It ends up in a landfill or even worse it ends up in our oceans.
Much of the plastic we think we are disposing of ‘properly’ in the landfills so it will not cause any further environmental damage, is not actually being put to waste. This plastic either falls out during transport, is blown away after reaching the landfill, or is washed away during rainfalls.

Back to Bamboo Toothbrushes!

Bamboo Toothbrushes

Instead of leaving our environment and our bodies subject to harmful materials in order to practice oral hygiene, we can switch to a plant-based, biodegradable option. Back to bamboo! Choosing to purchase and support bamboo toothbrushes is a vote towards better health and more sustainable products like this.

  • Bamboo is naturally water resistant. Straws and toothbrushes will not stain or deteriorate when moisture gets in contact.
  • Bamboo is the fastest growing grass/plant on earth. Many species of bamboo can grow two feet or more per day. After being harvested, bamboo stalks can grow back to full size within just 2 years! It does not even need to be replanted because it’s extensive root system will regenerate itself.
  • Bamboo contains naturally-occurring antimicrobial agents so there is no need for using fertilizers or pesticides during its cultivation. Hooray for organic!

What about pandas? Won’t bamboo become over-harvested?

There are over 1,000 different types of bamboo in the world, and pandas only eat 42 types! Giant Moso Bamboo is the bamboo harvested by BrushWithBamboo (BWB). This type of Bamboo is not food for Panda’s nor does BWB harvest in their natural living habitat. This bamboo is not farmed and grows wild, covering entire mountains. The supply of bamboo is so vast that currently BWB is harvesting <1% of all bamboo.

bamboo toothbrush
Where to purchase Bamboo Toothbrushes?

I have seen different health stores carrying bamboo toothbrushes. I also know there are many brands and designs for ecological toothbrushes on the internet and through Amazon. I support BrushwithBamboo.com because I agree with their mission statement and how they create their products. They offer adult and children toothbrushes, bamboo traveling cases, bamboo straws and more. I am not an affiliate for BWB but I do fully support their product.

bamboo toothbrush

Brush with Bamboo – Toothbrush

“Brush with Bamboo manufactures the world’s most eco-friendly toothbrush.”
Every component is plant-based: bristles, handle, wrapper, and box. Their product is BPA-Free, Vegan, and Verified Non-toxic.

  1. The box the toothbrush comes in is 100% paper (vs modern traditional of plastic) and sealed without the use of glue or tape.
  2. The wrapper is compostable (in city and commercial facilities) because it is made from PLA* derived entirely from plants.
  3. The bristles are bio-based*, which means they are mostly natural but still not biodegradable. The only biodegradable option for bristles at this time is animal hair, which as a vegetarian I will not be switching to ever.
  4. The handle is biodegradable and made entirely of bamboo.

Usage of this product is like any toothbrush. With proper care, it should last as long as a plastic toothbrush. The bristles do not need any extra care or tending to. The handle will experience some color fading near the top (mouth-piece) from usage. This is normal and doesn’t affect the brush. The toothbrush should be allowed to air dry.

Pricing for Bamboo Toothbrushes

It’s an investment in the Earth and our personal health when we purchase a more sustainable toothbrush. Toothbrushes on BWB range from $20 for 4 brushes or $50 for 12 brushes. (About $5/each… a price I don’t mind paying when the cost for plastic is so much more than money. )

They have an option for a ‘subscription’ so you can order once and have them automatically send new toothbrushes every 3 or so months. Brush with Bamboo offers FREE U.S.A. Shipping and will also ship to any country Worldwide.

I discovered bamboo toothbrushes almost 4 years ago and can say this simple change has made larger impacts in my life. Every morning when I wake up, I brush my teeth with my bamboo toothbrush. This reminds me to start my day with conscious intention of how I live my life. This reminds me to chose more sustainable options any chance I can… for instance, bringing my own reusable water bottle or thermos everywhere I go.

bamboo toothbrush
Greater Personal Health

Around the same time I made the switch to bamboo toothbrushes, I began researching into health products. I started using fluoride-free toothpaste and aluminum-free deodorant. It became the catalyst for me choosing to live more naturally, with less added chemicals in my beauty and health products specifically.
So brushing with a bamboo toothbrush may give you any superhuman power but it does give you more power to take control in your life. Which is what I want. To get out of the habit of unconsciously moving through my everyday actions without questioning why things are the way they are.

Why should we continue to brush with plastic toothbrushes? Is there anything they provide a bamboo toothbrush doesn’t? Let me know your thoughts below! Let’s start a discussion…



Thanks for reading

Namaste, from my heart to yours,

Jessa <3

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