When we think of toothpicks, most of us generally think of those little wood sticks, sometimes scented and sometimes not, we pick up on the way out of a restaurant after dinner. But did you know, the common toothpick has quite a long history?
In the time of our prehistoric ancestors, toothpicks were made from whatever material was available – shells, wood, bone… bird claws. As humans advanced, so did our toothpicks, going from naturally found elements to bronze toothpicks crafted in the metal age. From the silver toothpicks of the Roman Empire to the wooden toothpicks used by the Norse Vikings to the very ritualized tools used by those in Japan, this dental tool was a commonality amongst humans.
The toothpick as we know it now is most often credited to an American inventor named Charles Forster. In 1869, he took an idea he noted while watching the local workers create their own toothpicks while on a farm in Brazil and brought it home with him. He created a machine that took that idea and mechanized it, soon selling his industrialized creation worldwide.
Our long history with the toothpick continues today. Hundreds of billions of toothpicks are used annually – in China alone, 65% of adults use a toothpick after each meal. So we think the toothpick will be sticking around, for after popcorn at the movies or just to gnaw on as a casual fashion statement. Why mess with such a long and varied history!