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.”


21 Join the Discussion

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    • Hi, Wonder Girl! Thanks for being the very first Wonder Friend to comment on this Wonder of the Day®! We hope you had as much fun learning what happens if you don’t brush your teeth as we did! :-)

    • Alright, SUPER WonderGirl, we LOVE your enthusiasm! We appreciate your help and reminder– brushing your teeth is VERY important! Keep those pearly whites healthy! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Wonder Friend in Mrs. Hess’ class! We think it’s fun when you can brush your teeth with someone you love! :)

    • That’s great news, Wonder Friend Taylor! Your teeth are an important part of you… so we’re glad you’re taking good care of them! :)

  1. Hi wonderopolis I lost teeth but the dentist had to pull them out . My friends lost teeth in kindergarten but I lost teeth in first grade. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about swiming , or a hot day.

    • What a great connection to today’s Wonder, Nina! Thanks for telling us all about your experiences at the dentist, and your friends’ loose teeth, too! We know how important it is to keep your teeth nice and healthy, and we’re glad you are WONDERing about how to do that! Smiles are great, and healthy teeth are just as fun! What’s your favorite topic to Wonder about, Nina? :)

  2. Wow I never knew any of that and this is a secret but I don’t brush my teeth after every meal hahahahahahaha :) Thanks for the story.

    • We’re so glad you learned something new with us, Cate! We want you to keep your teeth nice and healthy, so brush them every day (twice a day), especially after you eat! We know it’s tough to bring a toothbrush with you EVERYWHERE you go, but the more you brush, the healthier your pearly whites will be!

      Thanks for sharing your comment today, Cate! :)

    • Not so fast, Kemerson! You definitely should still brush your teeth because all of the other food leaves residue on your teeth! Get that toothbrush out and ready for action! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  3. Hello!
    Why do you get stains on your teeth?
    Why do you use mouthwash?
    WHy don’t we brush teeth at school?
    Why do you brush your teeth before bed and in the morning?

    We want to learn about:
    How to read. Posionous snacks. How can animals sleep. Cobra snakes.

    • Hi Mrs. Utter’s Kindergarten Class! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Stains on teeth happen naturally with the food we eat and what we drink! That’s why it’s important to brush your teeth at least two times a day! Mouthwash can also help keep away cavities and other build up like plaque! We hope you’re smiling with your pearly whites! Keep WONDERing! :)

    • Brushing your teeth and flossing every day is so good for your teeth, and we have a WONDERful feeling you’ll take care of your pearly whites :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What happens if you don’t brush your teeth?
  • Who invented the toothbrush?
  • How did people brush their teeth before toothbrushes?

Wonder Gallery

little girl brushing teeth_shutterstock_49578049Vimeo Video

Try It Out

So take care of your teeth! Here are some simple guidelines to follow to make sure you keep your teeth healthy:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice each day! After breakfast and right before bed are great times to brush your teeth. If you can brush after lunch, too, go for it!
  • Brush all of your teeth thoroughly. Spend at least two to three minutes brushing, and be sure to get the sides and backs of your teeth.
  • Floss your teeth regularly. Flossing helps to remove food that hides where your toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, and be sure to get a new toothbrush about every three months or so.
  • Visit a dentist at least twice each year. Regular checkups will help you find and fix problems early.


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Shark Teeth lesson to learn how sharks’ teeth give us clues about what sharks eat!


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