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​A history of the toothbrush: new BDA Museum exhibition launches

11 October 2019



                                                                                                                       Photo (c) BDA Museum

The BDA Museum has launched a new temporary exhibition, 'The yardstick by which civilisation is measured: 200 years of the toothbrush', looking the role of the toothbrush in improving people's oral health.

This temporary exhibition will be open until 17 December 2019 and is free to visit, see our Museum opening times online.


One of the highlights on display is Bartholomew Ruspini's toothbrush, on loan from the Museum of Freemasonry. Ruspini was probably one of the first dentists to sell toothbrushes to his patients in the 1780s. 

Amongst other fascinating exhibits is a selection of early celluloid toothbrushes. These colourful and cheap brushes were the first to be made from plastic. Unfortunately, celluloid is deteriorating and so these toothbrushes will not last much longer.

We are delighted to have toothbrushes from the Addis collection at Hertford Museum and from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum.


                                                                                                                      Photo (c) BDA Museum

We thank Malcolm Bishop for the donation of the magnificent Wedgewood jug, bowl and matching toothbrush set to the Museum collection's, which is also now on display. It is excellent example of how the wealthy and growing middle classes were beginning to view the toothbrush as part of their daily cleaning routine.

The exhibition is a key part of a research project based at the University of Kent, entitled 'Oral health inequalities, oral health cultures 1870-1970'.


The project has been supported by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Wellcome Trust under its Springboard – Health of the Public Scheme.

The toothbrush: past, present and future

toothbrush panel

The toothbrush panellists left to right: Professor Francis Hughes, Sophie Thomas, Ben Underwood, Polly Munday and Professor Richard Watt (Photo (c) BDA)



To launch this new exhibition, the BDA Museum held a panel debate on Wednesday 25 September, entitled: 'The toothbrush: past, present and future', with leading experts to explore our relationship with the toothbrush, its role in improving our oral health, and looking at what the future holds for the toothbrush.

Professor Richard Watt, Chair of Dental Public Health at UCL chaired a thought provoking discussion between the panellists, Polly Munday senior oral health promoter (retired), Ben Underwood, associate dentist and Brush DJ app inventor, Sophie Thomas, designer and sustainability expert and KCL Professor of Periodontology, Francis Hughes.

This riveting discussion ranged from the challenges of getting patients to brush their teeth effectively, to the oral health inequalities of today, to the design and future sustainability of the toothbrush.

See more photographs from the day in our Facebook album.

BDA Museum

The BDA Museum has one of the largest collections of dental heritage in the UK. Spanning the 17th to the present day, highlights of the collection include dental chairs, drills, oral hygiene products, and the infamous ‘Waterloo’ teeth. 

The BDA Museum is located at 64 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 8YS, find out more details and our opening times.