Brushing with bone and boar hair
A manufacturer carved animal bone into the shape of this toothbrush. They tied the boar hair into tiny bundles, inserted them through the holes, and glued them into place. If the hairs fell out over time, a person could use the slits on the back side (pictured below) to replace the hairs.
Toothbrushes of many shapes
Did the richer people use toothbrushes?
However, these business areas contained four barbershops, and barbers were the ones who pulled people’s teeth. Perhaps barbers sold these toothbrushes, and that is why they were found in the business areas.
Historian Connie Young Yu has another theory: since workers living in tenements moved around from job to job, they probably carried their toothbrushes with them in their packs. That might be why not many toothbrushes were found in the tenement areas.
Were toothbrushes for looks or for hygiene?
In historic Chinatown, people did many things to keep their teeth healthy besides brushing their teeth. Acupuncturists treated tooth problems by placing needles in different parts of a person’s body to fix the balance of life forces. Herbalists provided remedies to treat toothache and promote general well-being.
Wesley Chan: A dentist's view of these toothbrushes (video)
Cooling teas and acupuncture: Dental care at the Market Street Chinatown (video)
“There Was a Chinatown Here” by Market Street Chinatown Archaeology Project (Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, Stanford University, and History San Jose) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.