Picking on your food might not quite sound like the recipe in wellness but consider it in all literal implication and this might make for more sensical a proposition than one might feel inclined to dismiss as at the outset. For picking on the food stuck in between your teeth is indeed a ritual in dental hygiene that one needs to adhere to in all certainty and toothpicks, by virtue of facilitating that action in importance emerges therefore as one of the prime practices needed to be furthered by humans of the civilised era.
And furthering we have been for sure, this trait of the health concerned with our set of the teeth that is what enables us to flash that smile in all endearingness, for times as long as one can remember. In fact, as the oldest instrument of dental cleaning, the toothpick resides in a status in history that might not be exactly pinpointed by its stature of humbleness. Whether it be references availed out of species as distinct as the now extinct Neanderthals or corroborations of their usage having been derived from the account of early Mesopotamians and earlier Egyptians, toothpicks are bearing of a legacy that extends well back in time to express as an invention in as much earliness as well.
Back in the day when the toothpick came to be or even after having made considerable advancements along the length of its timeline, these now mass produced items of ultimate ordinariness assumed a being that had been striking indeed. With precious metals like silver and gold and bronze making them up, albeit for a task still conforming to the necessity of what it does today, toothpicks tended to be rather artistic creations in delicateness and style. Often set with gems and stones as well, it though comes as quite a surprise that wood was not even considered a proper material out of which toothpicks could be crafted. The reason being that the present day choice of this essentiality was deemed unsuitable to attend to the purpose it was intended for. And thus there prevailed a plethora of riches for teeth to find pricking through in the toothpick assertion all throughout, whether it be relating to times of antiquity or instead catering to the evolving whims upto the Medieval Period as well.
Even beyond that era toothpicks did not lose even an ounce of their sheen establishing instead their selves beyond the premise of their functionality. As veritable items of luxury indeed, the many a 17th century toothpicks in particular mimicked almost the treasured essence of jewelry, unfurling as specimens of art unmissable for sure. In such dignity of its presence, never mind doomed to its task of digging the dirt out in between our teeth, the toothpick made for a rather opulent pick in gifting as well. Someone as royally resplendent as Queen Elizabeth herself once received six of them as a gilded present, which she would not shy away from showing off even in all her residing in the riches presumably more esteemed.
This norm of the times, peculiar though it might be in the present day, however meant that not everyone could take hold of a toothpick usually made to precious glittering measure. And thus emerged affordable variants of this equipment in immense needfulness, as creativity unleashed from among the folks forever on the lookout for their stick of choice. From the Romans’ use of bird feathers to the native Americans’ relying upon deer bone and the Eskimos’ employment of walrus whiskers for the singular purpose in dental cleaning, toothpicks came to be as unusual in their essence as they were special in their sight.
How the transition from metals to other materials occurred for the toothpick to gain even greater ground in the fore of dental hygiene might be clear now. But the exact tweaking of its essence to make it the disposable splinter of wood that it today is an entailing out of some of the Romans. Beyond their technique of pulling the bird feathers, chopping off the quill and sharpening the tip, this trailblazing indeed people since times ancient also took advantage of the mastic gum tree’s teeth whitening properties to introduce wood as a strong contender of shaping up as the modern day toothpicks almost exclusively made of wood alongside of course the infesting nature so characteristic of all things plastic.
It wouldn’t be until at least the 1600s though, perhaps right after the toothpick fanciness was at is peak artistic exploration that the mass production of this now common item of everyday use commenced. Interestingly though it still is a 19th century masterminding by American Charles Foster that what made toothpicks truly ubiquitous in all their insignificant significance. The premise for Foster to work upon though sprawled along the nation of Portugal in its small municipality of Coimbra somewhere in the Mondego river valley where it had been the nuns of the Mos-teiro de Lorvão monastery who kickstarted the tradition of handcrafting disposable toothpicks out of the finest orangewood using a jackknife to shape up that slender stick of surprising serving.
No wonder as the origin almost place from where toothpicks set out in the modern trail of their uninterrupted journey in longstanding reputation, the region soon assumed the identity as being the toothpick capital of the world. And it had been on the strength of this distinction as well as its deftness in delivering the finest of toothpicks indeed that Portugal soon made inroads into other parts of Europe as well as the Americas with its iconic offering. Not just the ‘plain’ variety though, it also had been a special type of cocktail toothpick called the “palitos especiales”, carved and curled in much intricacy that made the country standout as even more distinctive in all its toothpicking passion.
And yet it had been an encounter in the Portuguese colony of Brazil that is what led Foster to foster indeed the modern industry of toothpick making and manufacturing. Impressed by the locals’ beautiful teeth he believed was attained by means of their handcrafted toothpicks, the brilliant indeed businessman launched his own ingenious initiative in not just supplying toothpicks but also creating a demand for them. Singlehandedly almost therefore eking out a market for the toothpicks he managed to produce in bulk through a substantial machine of his own invention, Foster earned for himself the distinction of being the name most referenced when it comes to the global toothpick ‘revolution’.
What Foster did was hire some young men to go to some shops asking for toothpicks, following up with personal rounds to these shops to make the supply and sending off once again his entourage of youngsters to make the purchase setting in motion therefore a spree of buying and selling that all revolved around his initiative. Assuming even more ‘dignity’ by sending off another batch of Harvard students to replay the same sequence in restaurants, Foster succeeded in expanding the scope of his business by virtue of his shrewd business acumen indeed.
But what he endowed upon the not forever humble pride of the toothpick was also such realisations that went beyond the serving of their purpose in all hygienic health of the dental domain. As the mass produced wooden toothpicks became ubiquitous at eateries and restaurants, what took off was also the practice of chewing on them by men and women alike, perhaps as a ‘testimony’ to having fine dined at some dignified place in town. Over time this notion in proof expanded to harbour even mere inklings of this secondary purpose in serving, so much so that the very act in chewing came to resonate in the ideals of carefree contentment and the like. And thus, even as the more ordinary identity of the toothpick might have led it to abandon its earlier symbolism of status and the riches, it still managed to assume a different rendition of the same importance in association, moving on from the preciousness of the gilded and the bejewelled to sum up instead the greater pleasure of life in blisses and pleasures.
Advancing to even more modern times of the current day world existence and toothpicks have seen use also in other aspects of life and living. Whether it be the agent on which can be mounted an array of finger foods for convenient holding and devouring of them or the tactic in determining the baked status of many a goodies of the cakes and the brownies and the muffins and the scones as well as in helping keep intact the many a layers of humongous burgers and sandwiches and such other stuffed snacks quite clumsy in their innate nature, toothpicks sure are more necessary now than ever.
These and numerous such other secondary and tertiary and henceforth uses of the toothpick however does not deter it one bit from attending most attentively to the first and foremost need out of which it had been birthed. With continuous evolution in their essence, whether it be in terms of design or even in terms of flavour, the eternal experience with the toothpick continues to be one rather profound despite all its ploy of the pokes and the picks into such business quite personal.