Probably the one similarity between us and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia is our shared dislike of the trips to the dentist. This would explain the discovery of chew sticks, the predecessor of the modern-day toothbrush, in excavation sites dating back to 3500 BCE. While the chew sticks are still popular in certain parts around the world, it’s the toothbrush that’s become the tool of choice for maintaining oral hygiene. The earliest known users of bristle-bearing toothbrushes were the Chinese, who used the flexible yet resilient Siberian hog hair for bristles back in the 15th century. These were attached to a handle fashioned from bamboo or bones. It took a couple of centuries for the Chinese toothbrush to make its way to Europe. (In case you are wondering, up until then Europeans rubbed their teeth with a piece of cloth or sponge dipped in a solution made of sulphur oil and salt.)
English entrepreneur William Addis was the first person to mass-produce toothbrushes in 1780, while the first patent for one was granted to American H.N. Wadsworth in 1857. The first evolutionary change in the toothbrush’s design came about thanks to the First World War. Since soup bones couldn’t be spared, manufacturers created handles with celluloid. They’d then drill holes in the handles to attach the bristles. The Addis version of the toothbrush used cow tail hair. Later versions of the European toothbrushes, like the one used by Napoleon, replaced the hog hair with softer horse hair. Despite their popularity, animal bristles were never an ideal material for a variety of reasons, mainly due to their animal source. In 1938, DuPont solved this problem when it introduced a toothbrush with synthetic fibres made from nylon. Brushing teeth became a daily ritual due to DuPont’s marketing campaign during the Second World War, which reminded American citizens that it was their duty to stay healthy by brushing their teeth. In 1961, an alternative to the manual toothbrush came in the form of an electric one from Switzerland, and by the late 1970s the toothbrush industry started churning out a variety of new designs that differed in bristle shape and size.
These days, you can do a lot more with toothbrushes than just scrub your teeth. Their use as a fine cleaning device is fairly popular, and it doesn’t take long for an enterprising maker to whisk one for a creative purpose.
#1 DIY Electric Toothbrush
Project maker: Roman Ursu
Project link: Watch the YouTube tutorial
Makers like Roman Ursu don’t let go of a do-it-yourself opportunity just because something is available off-the-shelf. So, while electric toothbrushes aren’t really expensive, he’d still put in the effort to electrify a manual one. The build isn’t component intensive, and the process isn’t complicated either. Before you begin, make sure none of the tiny particles from the ensuing process get into the bristles, by wrapping that end with some kitchen foil. Then, cut the handle in two places to place a tiny vibrating motor in the upper part, and a battery at the lower end. After chopping the handle, you’ll have to drill holes in them to place the motor and the battery. You’ll also have to make a hole through the central column of the handle to pass the wires, and another at the top to place a switch to toggle the motor. Follow Roman’s instructions in the video to connect the battery to the motor via the switch. Once they’re all hooked up, hot-glue the handle back together and you’re good to go. The hot glue also makes it possible to easily replace the battery when it runs out.
"Don't let go of a DIY opportunity just because something is available off-the-shelf"
#2 Toothbrush Bracelets
Project maker: Tori
Project link: hsmag.cc/natHmj
Tori has found another crafty use for the toothbrush handle by moulding them into bracelets. To replicate her build, you’ll need to make sure you use toothbrushes with plastic handles. Start by plucking out the bristles. Tori suggests you can ease the process by sticking the bristles in hot water to loosen their holes. After removing the bristles, carefully submerge the entire toothbrushe in a boiling pot of water for about three to five minutes. Use pliers to remove the toothbrushes from the boiling water, and place them in hand towels.
Now, pick the softened toothbrushes with the hand towel, and bend them into the shape of a bracelet. When you’re done, place them into a bowl of cold water for about five minutes, until they harden once again. If you’re not satisfied with the shape, you can place the bracelets in the pot of hot water, and reshape them once they are malleable again.
#3 Stacked Hanger
Project maker: Shipra
Project link: hsmag.cc/WHhotR
Even when the business end of a toothbrush (i.e. the bristles) are worn out, you still have a sturdy handle that hasn’t lost its usability. That’s exactly what went through Shipra’s mind when she decided to craft a stacked hanger using old toothbrushes. She neatly clipped away all the bristles, and then used hot glue to tightly wrap a piece of jute string around three toothbrushes. She then took two lengths of the jute string, and made a loop in the middle that would be used to dangle the hanger.
Next up, she attached the toothbrushes to the string on both sides of the loop, using a combination of knots and hot glue to hold them in place. Watch the video for a visual guide to create the knots and stack the toothbrushes. Snip any remaining string at the end. When you’re done, use the top loop to hang the stacked hanger
Project maker: Lenore Edman
Project link: hsmag.cc/wgwYjw
ibrobots are a simple class of robots that are driven by a vibrating motor. They are easy to build, and very popular because of their simplicity. Designed by the makers at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, the BristleBot is a type of vibrobot that uses the bristle-end of a toothbrush. “BristleBots are inspired by the seeds at the end of a stalk of grass which, if you squeeze them gently, will push through your hands in one direction, but won’t move backwards,” shares Lenore. The team looked through all kinds of brushes and brooms that would show off that kind of directional motion: “Eventually, we found the right thing in modern toothbrushes, which were starting to experiment with pointing the bristles in a variety of directions.
From there, it was easy to put a vibrating motor and a battery on top.” The BristleBot was an instant success: “At the 2008 Bay Area Maker Faire, we had a table for BristleBot building. We wrote out a set of instructions, set out materials and tools, and put out a tin with a slit in the lid and a label suggesting a $2 donation for materials. We lined the edges of the table with empty IC tubes, to provide a barrier to keep bots from zooming off the table. There was often a crowd around the table, and there were usually several BristleBots buzzing around.