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Gettysburg Dentist Discusses the History of the Toothpick

Posted by Peter Samuels on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 @ 14:04 PM

 

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"Pick not thy teeth with thy knyfe, but take a stick, or some clean thyng, then doe you not offend" ~ Rhodes: 15 century philosopher

Apparently, picking the teeth with some type of dental implement has been around for a while, probably long before there were dentists! Although the quotation above dates back to the 15th century , toothpicks have been around long before that. A short portion in the Talmud reads: “one may take a splinter from the wood lying near him to clean his teeth” in reference to what the people can do before a festival suggests the use of tooth-picking sticks.  Today, toothpicks have become part and parcel of life; they make convenient aids to dislodge food particles. Despite its humble appearance, the mere 3-inch toothpick has an interesting history.

Various archaeological finds reveal striated grooves on fossilized teeth. In 1911, grooved teeth found at the La Quina Neanderthal site suggest the use of an abrasive implement on the teeth. Across different continents, similar grooved teeth were found among the remains of Australian Aborigines, North American Indians, Canary Islanders and the Upper Dynastic Egyptians, with some dating as far back as two million years. These early forms of toothpicks may have served more than picking out food as these grooves on the teeth suggest. They may also have been used to soothe the discomfort of periodontal disease and dental caries.

With time, different cultures put their own creativity into honing the toothpick. The lowly toothpick has evolved from a necessary tool for dental hygiene to status symbol. In Europe, kings, queens and lords used designer toothpicks made of gold, silver or ivory, sometimes inlaid with precious stones; while the common man used twigs or porcupine quills. In China, a curved pendant toothpick made of cast iron was found. The Chinese loved toothpicks, using mint-tipped toothpicks in between meals to clear the palate.

Charles Forster of Maine was the first American to manufacture toothpicks. At first, he handmade them, but with growing demand, he duly invented a machine to keep up. He went one step further when he decided to make disposable toothpicks, after a trip to South America, where he saw natives using slivers of wood to clean their teeth. To create demand for disposable toothpicks, Mr. Forster hired Harvard students to eat at restaurants and instructed them to loudly ask for toothpicks after finishing their meals! He used the same tactics in retail stores and with time, toothpicks became part of the dining experience.

We don’t manufacture toothpicks, but we hope, when you need a dentist, you’ll pick us!

Topics: Dentist in Gettysburg, Gettysburg dentist, Dentist Gettysburg

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