What did the Georgians use to brush their teeth?

Posted by Hazel Baker, Director of London Guided Walks on Monday, November 15, 2021 Under: Georgian

What did the Georgians use to brush their teeth?

I spoke with Sarah Murden to talk about dental care during the Georgian era. 

My first question was 'What did the Georgians use to brush their teeth?'

Here's what she said:

"A Frenchman, a chap called Pierre Fauchard, actually studied the anatomy of the mouth and looked at the actual teeth, looked at the construction of the teeth and he started to write documents and, I think, wrote a thesis on what we were doing wrong, this is what we should be doing and this is how to look after the teeth better. 

I think some of that had come about because we were sort of falling in love with sugar and the teeth, consequently were rotting very very quickly. And so I think, I don't know what spurred him on to write about it, but I think I suspect in the fact that you knew so many people walking around, either in pain or with no teeth at all, that he thought probably there's gotta be a better way than this to, to manage then dental care. But he was one of the first people, if not the first person, to discover that acidic foods like lemons, limes were actually causing erosion of the enamel, something that we know today. We know if you sort of suck on a lemon for too long it's not going to do your teeth much good. He obviously knew. I wasn't going to be good with the teeth. But he did, however, recommend cleaning the teeth with human urine."

When were toothbrushes invented?

"Toothbrushes, that's another story of itself. William Addis was from Clerkenwell. The story goes that around the 1770s. He was involved in a riot and found himself in jail. Whilst he was in jail he wanted to clean his teeth. So he manages to find a piece of bone left from the food that they were being given. And he fashioned that somehow into a  handle and then managed to get some bristles from one of the yard brushes from one of the guards. He managed to put these yard brush bristles into the bone and hey Presto! you have a toothbrush.

When you start to look back at adverts.. back in the 1750s there were 'brushes for teeth' for sale and they would cost 6d. Which is not, even then. It's about three pounds in modern money, so it's not that they were a prohibitive price. That makes me think that some of this was a great marketing tool by William Addis at the time."

To give WIlliam Addison credit for inventing the toothbrush is perhaps a little too strong a statement. The word ‘toothbrush’ wasn't new, it had first appeared in English in 1690 when Anthony Wood bought such an implement from a Mr J Barret (as mentioned in his describes in his autobiography) Even though the word toothbrush was relatively new, the items themselves had been around for centuries. We know that the Chinese made ones from bamboo, with hog’s bristles. Cary Grant tells Doris Day 'The Hindus use twigs' in That Touch of Mink.  Why had they not caught on earlier? Was chewing sticks or rubbing with rags soaked in urine so appealing? Certainly applying a gentle abrasive such as charcoal, salt or coal dust, even though plentiful, surely didn't make it any easier? There's a recipe from c. 1690 which called for a mix of powdered charcoal, dried sage and salt which, one can imagine, would have been fairly efficacious. 

In 1780, Addis started a company which made toothbrushes from his premises in Whitechapel, East London. They were an overnight success. Initially he supplied them through his contacts in the book industry, a sort of “buy a book and get a free toothbrush' kind of offer which we still see when selling magazines today. Sure enough the sales pitch worked and word spread about this 'must-have' product. Other brands soon joined in the new sensation too. But it is the Wisdom who can claim their company was established over 235 years ago as Addis by its rioter founder; William Addis of Clerkenwell.

Listen to Sarah Murden talk about Georgian dentistry in episode 71 Georgian Dentistry, duration 20 mins.

In : Georgian 

Tags: dental care  toothbrush 
comments powered by Disqus


"online bookings' cpd #earthrise 17th 1830s 18thcentury 1930s 20th 50th a abbey adele afternoon afternoon tea age ages alastair ancient and animals annie anniversary apps architecture arsenal art arts attack autumn awards baker bank bankside barbican barrier bathhouses battersea bazalgette bear beasts becket bells bexley bishopsgate black blackfriars blackout blitz bloomsbury bombers book books borough bowie breakfast brewery brick bridge britain british bronze bronze age brunch buckingham burger burlesque buses cab cabaret cake canal canary captain care carl carol caroline carols cathedral cemetery cenotaph century chapman charles charlton cheap cheapside cheese childhood chips chiswick chocolate christmas church city city of london clapham clerkenwell cocktails coffee coffeehouses common company concert corporate covent covent garden covid-19 cream crime cross crown cruise crystal danson david davy day december dental deptford dick dickens dinner dinosaurs do dock dockland museum dragons dreamtime druitt earth east eat eating eats ecommerce edward edwardians edwin egypt elizabethan end engineering era ernst event events exhibition exhibitions facebook fair fairytale fall family fantastic farringdon fashion february festival film finance fire first fiscus florence folklore food for francis free friars frost gallery galliard garden george georgian georgians german germany gibb gift girls globe grade great greenhithe greenwich group guided guides gun half hall halsk handel harle harry potter hats havering havering hoard hawksmoor hazel heroes hidden highbury hill hilton history holloway homes hooke hot hotel house housing how humphry i ian ianmcd ice ice cream icelandic ii iii in india inigo isaac islington italian iv jack jack the ripper jack's james jenny jewels john johns jones joseph katharines kelly kenneth kew gardens kids kidstours killer kim king kings kingston lambeth lane lewis lights limestone literature liverpool locations londinium london london bridge london's londoners londonhistory lunch lutyens macaulay magnus management maritime market markets martyr mary match matilda maufe mayfair mcdiarmid measure medical medieval memorial middle military millennium mock-tudor modern modernist montague month monument moorgate mosaic murder murderers museum museum of london docklands music musicals mystery n7 national gallery national history museum ned new newcomen news newton nhs nichols night nightingale nurse of old street oliver open opera paddington palace palaces pancakes pandemic panoramic park parties path pauls people philip photo photograhy photography photos pizza places plague plantation plays plumstead podcast poetry pokemon polly poor pop poplar port poverty prince priory private tours pub public pubs purbeck qe2 queen queenhithe quirky railways recording regency reid religion rembrandt renaissance restoration ripper river road rob robert roman romans roundhouse royal saga saints salute saxon school. science sculpture scupture seacole second serial servants sewers shakespeare shoreditch siemens sir slave slavery small smartphone smith smithfield smithfields soap soho somme south southbank southwark spitalfields spy squirrels ss st statue stories stow street strike stuart stuarts studios subscription suffragettes sugar summer susan sydenham tate taxi tea ten term terror thames thamesmeade the theatre thiepval things things to do thrifty thriftytheatre to toothbrush tour tours tower trade travel truman tudor tudors tumblety twelfth twentieth twist und underground update v&a ve victims victoria victorian victorian london victorians viking virtual vouchers wales walk walking walks wall war water werner west westend westminster wharf wheeler whitechapel wilde wildlife willelm william windrush wine winter women wood woodland woolwich world wyatt york zachary 1666 1888 2019 2020





Site by Hazel  |  Photographs by Hazel or Ian