Many traditional cultures around the world have cleaned their teeth by rubbing twigs or pieces of wood against them since ancient times. Rubbing baking soda or chalk against the teeth was also common.
According to the American Dental Association, the first toothbrush was built in 1498 by an emperor in China who had hog bristles embedded in a bone handle. They were not common in the West until the 17th century, and became much more common in the 19th century. (A common older method of tooth cleaning, by rubbing with a piece of rag cloth, was in use in Europe at least since Roman times). Natural bristles (from animal hair) were replaced by synthetic materials, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938.
Toothpaste is commonly added to a toothbrush to aid in cleaning.
In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without, beating out the automobile, personal computer, cell phone, and microwave, according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.