Do you brush your teeth after every meal? We hope so! Taking care of your teeth is an important way to stay healthy.

Can you imagine how difficult it might be to take care of your teeth without a toothbrush, though? Today, toothbrushes are easy to find. But things weren’t always so easy.

In ancient times, people often used a twig or a small piece of tree branch — called a "chew stick" or a "toothstick" — to brush their teeth. They would chew one end until it was frayed, then use the frayed end to scrape their teeth. If they had a knife, they might sharpen the other end of the chew stick to a point to use as a toothpick.

Other people would use a rag dipped in saltwater to wash their teeth. Some people just rubbed baking soda directly onto their teeth. Today, baking soda is still an ingredient in many types of toothpaste.

Eventually, the emperor of China came up with the idea of attaching stiff, rough bristles from the back of a pig’s neck to a piece of bone or bamboo, and the toothbrush was born! He patented his idea in 1498.

News of the emperor’s invention spread far and wide, but it didn’t catch on quickly everywhere. In Europe, for example, people had a hard time finding horsehair or feathers stiff enough to work as a toothbrush.

In the 1900s, the toothbrush saw many innovations. Plastic handles replaced bone. Nylon bristles replaced animal hairs. The first successful electric toothbrush hit American shelves in the early 1960s.

Aren’t you glad that you have nice, modern toothbrushes to use? What do you think it would’ve been like to brush your teeth with coarse pig hair?

The next time you brush your teeth, be thankful for your toothbrush. It helps you clean your teeth and stay healthy. But is it really necessary to brush your teeth so often? It sure is!

After you eat, bacteria in your mouth break down sugar left on your teeth. As the sugar breaks down, it turns into acid that can damage the outer coating of your teeth — called "enamel" — and make holes called "cavities."

If you don’t brush your teeth regularly, bacteria can build up to form a clear film on your teeth called "plaque." Brushing your teeth regularly helps to remove plaque and prevent it from forming. It’s important to avoid plaque since it can cause a gum disease known as "gingivitis."


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