On Individually Wrapped Toothbrushes (IWTs)

On Individually Wrapped Toothbrushes (IWTs)
Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Philip Hardy

I love individually wrapped toothbrushes. I’m not talking about the toothbrushes that line the aisles of your neighborhood drug store, the ones found between a hard plastic shell and a thin piece of cardboard, I’m talking about another breed of toothbrush, the ones that dental hygienists give out. If a dental hygienist has never given you one of the toothbrushes I’m about to describe, then find one posthaste and fondle the pockets of their lab coat until he or she coughs one up.

Devoid of the bells and whistles the modern toothbrush possesses, the toothbrushes that dental hygienists give out are time honored classics, the type you’d imagine mutton chopped athletes promoting on television commercials of decades past; IWTs are straight up pieces of plastic. They are one solid color and come sealed in clear plastic bags that you can pop open like a bag of potato chips. You can tell they are cheaply manufactured yet strangely durable; they seem to come from a different era of plastic making.

The toothbrushes seem like they must have been blindly produced a long time ago as if no thought was put into the fact that these toothbrushes would ever go out of style, and if you hold one of these IWTs up to a modern one found in the supermarket, it looks like you’re holding an artifact, a prototype of the first ever plastic toothbrush. I wonder if the molds are still used on a regular basis to create IWTs or if from the years 1971 to 1981, the factories that made these toothbrushes ran their assembly lines day and night, and by the end of the decade, toothbrush manufacturers realized they’d produced enough toothbrushes to last the country indefinitely.

Thinking about the sheer surplus of IWTs is not the only reason why I love them; IWTs remind me of independence. If you really think about it, there is no reason to ever pack more than a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear for a weekend trip somewhere, and weekend trips are where IWTs come in handy the most. IWTs remind me of visiting friends in the fall, in cooler places where all I needed was a warm smile, a bed sheet, and a floor, the promise of a day in a place that felt as new as the bristles of the individually wrapped toothbrush sliding across my teeth.

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