Seven datoon toothbrushes, India, 1880-1920
The twigs of the neem or margossa tree have been used in India as ‘datoon’ toothbrushes. This is a practice that has gone on for centuries. Indeed, trees of this type are often referred to as ‘toothbrush trees’. Chewing the twigs releases chemicals in the plant that can kill bacteria and greatly reduce the build up of plaque on the teeth. The longest twig measures 270 mm in length. The toothbrushes were bought from the local bazaar by the Indian Museum in Calcutta (now Kolkata) who later donated the toothbrushes to the Wellcome collections.
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Small brushes, with long handles, for cleaning the teeth. A variety of oral hygiene measures have been used since before recorded history. This has been verified by various excavations done all over the world, in which tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills that had been used to clean or brush ones teeth were recovered.