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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Celebrity: Kian Egan from Westlife

Kian EganSCOPE caught up with Kian Egan from Westlife, who waxed lyrical about his favourite invention; the electric toothbrush! Here are some fun facts we learned along the way:

Would you believe that the first mass-produced toothbrush was created by William Addis in England in 1780? Having been jailed for rioting he used his time wisely by tackling the issue of teeth cleaning. He took a small animal bone, drilled holes in it, and glued bristles (obtained from a guard) to it to create the toothbrush.

The first patent for a toothbrush was by HN Wadsworth in 1850 in the United States but mass production of the product in America only started in 1885. The rather advanced design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian Boar hair bristles. (Boar wasn't an ideal material; it retained bacteria, it didn't dry well, and the bristles would often fall out of the brush).

Natural bristles (from animal hair) were replaced by synthetic materials, usually nylon in 1938 and indeed it wasn’t until World War II that the concept of brushing teeth really caught on in the US. This in part was due to the fact that it was the daily duty of an American soldier to clean his teeth.

As far back as the late 1800s in the US, a notorious quack named Dr Scott claimed to have invented an electric toothbrush. However, unlike actual electric bristle brushes, Dr Scott's brush merely sent a strong electrical current through the brush to whom-ever was using it at the time. The shock was apparently supposed to "promote good health".

A more advanced pharmaceutical version of the electric toothbrush was sold in Switzerland in 1939 but it took many more years for the invention to be produced in the US. The Broxodent was a rotating electric toothbrush developed by Squibb Pharmaceutical in 1960. Originally it was intended for patients with limited motor skills but soon the commercial potential of the electric toothbrush became apparent.

Interestingly independent research finds that most electric toothbrushes are no more effective than the manual variety. The exception is the "rotation-oscillation" models, but even this brush performs only marginally better than a regular manual brush. The research indicates that the way the brushing is performed is of a higher importance than the choice of brush.

Electric toothbrushes have become increasingly affordable. However, part of this is offset by the (relatively) high retail cost of the disposable brush heads.

In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without, beating out the car, computer, mobile phone and microwave according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.

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