Writing Out Loud: Brush Up, Save A Tooth

By George Stahl

“Ni sheayale ma?” would have been something you would have heard your mother shouting from the other room at least 5 nights a week, and as many times a night. That is if you were a preteen about 1,400 years ago living in China. Roughly translated, according to Google, the phrase means, “Did you brush your teeth?” Ahhh, now you see. But wait minute. Five hundred twenty one years ago? That’s right. That’s when the first toothbrush made its debut on the world. Starting with China, and it was on this day, June 26. Okay, how shocked are you? Right? Five hundred twenty one years ago, some people in China put a series of boar hair together, and instead of making rope, they discovered the benefits of have a smaller portion of the hair and setting a series of them on a small wooden plank. But what did people with toothbrushes use for toothpaste? What would you have used to run across your teeth to keep them in your mouth?

At the time, diet was not exactly something the average person thought too much about. Even though M&Ms and Hershey Bars wouldn’t come along for a little over a thousand years, even back then, people were still eating things that were not reacting too well with their teeth. Stains, cavities, and even loose and falling out teeth were the norm of the day, not to mention the times of war and hand to hand combat. That was brutal even if you survived. Most of your teeth didn’t.

So, back at camp, in your tent, you would get out a basin of water, a rag, and your hog hair toothbrush. There you were, staring at it, void of toothpaste and wet. Then suddenly, as if in a modern day T.V. commercial, your slave comes running into your tent, and before you go Martial Arts on him, he holds out a paste and smiles, “Master, I have this for you to try. It is supposed to work with your toothbrush. The great gods have said so. It will make your teeth white as snow, and your breath fresh as the morning dew. Please, before you thrust that sword into my belly, try it. Then, if you do not like it, I will gladly die for you, my lord.” Well, I guess the similarities ended with the slave running into your tent, but you get the idea.

The toothbrush came first, but it was only a matter of time before toothpaste came along, and then a powder you would mix with water, and finally, back to the paste.
Despite the pictures you may have seen of our ancestors, and of people in the recent past, mankind has been obsessed with dental hygiene since the beginning of time. It’s just that every once in a while, the chore of brushing your teeth manifested itself in ways unheard of by prehistoric man.

We have some inventor in a mountain area of China way back in the Tang Dynasty to thank for the apparatus we all have in our medicine cabinets today. I am not talking about the tranquilizers! I am talking about the toothpaste and toothbrush. Yours is most likely not made from boar’s hair, and your toothpaste, I am guessing does not have fragments of bone and alum in it. It does have a whitening agent, fluoride, and some germ fighting stuff though.

I also know that you are one of those people who use that stuff at least two times a day, religiously. If you miss, you feel like you just killed your best friends’ dog, and you are not telling him because you know what will happen. Then you see him face to face and you turn and run. He does not give chase, but your cell phone rings. Yes sir, you and that toothbrush are inseparable.
Even though the first of these fantastic dental gadgets was conceived so long ago, the world of brushing your teeth has evolved into a fantastic array of tooth maintenance magic. By the time the American public saw a patented, working toothbrush, the rest of the world had already been in the business of taking care of their canines for centuries. Given that we will be only 243 years old next month, that’s okay.

Now, all of that being said, something else begs to be explored. If we have such a history with the care and keeping of our teeth, why is it that, according to the American Dental Association, overall 30 percent more women brush their teeth and see a dentist over men? Men, what’s up with that? You can argue that we don’t know how many women and men were asked, or how scientific this poll is, but who cares? Look at it like a political poll. No one has the slightest idea how those are done, and we take them as gospel. No difference here, guys we are way behind the denture grip on this one.

To be sort of fair, however, ladies, you didn’t score so well in this poll either. Woman to woman, your percentage of brushing was not all that great. That probably makes it even worse for us guys. You didn’t do so well, but you still did better than the men did. Disgraceful. I’ll bet you that the Tang Dynasty toothbrush guru is rolling over in his grave.

We can do better fellow men. We can take charge and scrape the toothbrush across our teeth way more than the ladies can, and we can have pearly whites, not store bought, to show for it. And ladies, we know you can do even better too. Whether you use a regular toothbrush, or an electric one. Whether it has nylon bristled or hog hair, make your smile proud. Brush up, save a tooth.