Things You Never Knew About Wooden Toothpicks

You might not think much of the lowly wooden toothpick, but over a hundred years ago, the toothpick was a hotly debated topic in newspapers across the United States.

An American Invention

For thousands of years, people from all over the world have used toothpicks made of various materials to clean their teeth, but only in the United Stated did someone decide to take the lowly wood toothpick and turn it into a commercial business. New England and Maine were the major exporters of toothpicks and the habit was soon formed all across the U.S. [1]

For the “Educated Races”

According to a newspaper report in 1911, the toothpick is a tool of the “educated races.” So-called savages supposedly did not use toothpicks to clean their teeth.

While this assumption was completely untrue, the article did go to show that the newly made wooden toothpicks were being used by the upper class to clean their teeth after each meal. [2]

Quill Works Best

The best type of toothpick that was used in the early 20th century was the quill, according to some reports of the time. The reason for the preference for quill was that the quill could not leave splinters in the gums. [3]

A Deadly Habit

While many people praised the benefits of tooth picking with a wooden toothpick, others claimed that the habit was dangerous and sometimes even deadly.

In one report published in 1890, a doctor and a dentist claimed that, “the great American habit of toothpick chewing is responsible for a great number of human ills.”

Splinters in the gums were mentioned, but one doctor also claimed that the splinters were sometimes swallowed and could lacerate the stomach. [4]

Portugal Toothpicks

The Portuguese also made and exported wooden toothpicks. In the early 1900s their wood of choice was orange wood. The Portuguese toothpicks were slightly thicker than the American variety and they had only one pointed end. [5]

Austrian Toothpicks

The most expensive toothpicks money could buy in the early 1900s came from Austria. These wood picks were whittled out of alpswood and were labelled as the highest grade of wooden toothpick money could buy. These were most popular in Chicago. [6]

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