Philmont prepares to give the Tooth of Time a good brushing

Wildfires forced Philmont Scout Ranch to cancel treks in 2018, but the BSA’s hiking paradise in New Mexico will be ready to welcome trekkers in 2019.

To get ready for the busy summer season, Philmont staffers and volunteers are clearing debris, mitigating the risk of future fires — and preparing to give the Tooth of Time a good brushing.

Yes, you read that right. Philmont Scout Ranch has announced plans to build a giant toothbrush to clean its most famous mountain.

“The Tooth of Time hasn’t been brushed since the 1940s, so there’s quite a bit of dirt up there,” says Tooth of Time consultant Olaf Sprilo, D.D.S. “Imagine if you hadn’t brushed your teeth in more than 70 years. I have to think you’d have quite a bit of buildup.”

Picking a dental plan

Sprilo and the folks at Philmont considered several different options for cleaning the Tooth. Rejected ideas included:

  • Equipping a fleet of helicopters with power washers
  • Sending Alex Honnold up the face with a mega-size roll of paper towels and a bottle of the leading household cleaner
  • Just waiting a few days for it to rain

Ultimately, Sprilo settled on the simplest, most obvious solution for cleaning the Tooth of Time. And his ah-ha moment came in the likeliest of places.

“I’ll tell you exactly where I was when I came up with the idea,” Sprilo says with a sparkly smile. “I was at my bathroom counter, brushing my teeth. I remember looking at my teeth and thinking, ‘these look just like the Tooth of Time.'”

A photo, which historians have dated to some time in the 1940s, shows the last time the Tooth of Time was brushed. Nobody knows what happened to that toothbrush, though most experts believe it was thrown away.

Getting to the root of the problem

Geological estimates put the rocky, canine-shaped protrusion on the Tooth of Time at around 500 feet tall.

An average adult’s tooth protrudes about 10 millimeters from the gums. Mental math tells me that means the Tooth of Time is approximately 15,239 times larger than the Tooth of Human.

Your typical toothbrush measures about 8 inches. Multiply that by 15,239, and you get 121,912 inches. That’s 10,159 feet, or nearly 2 miles long.

“After we spent a few days figuring out those calculations, we assumed the next part would be easy: finding a toothbrush that’s 2 miles long,” Sprilo says. “Boy, were we wrong!”

Sprilo called all the major drug store chains to check their stock of giant toothbrushes. No luck.

“Every store hung up on me and asked me never to call again,” Sprilo says. “That reminds me — Bryan, do you mind sending me an email so I remember to move my prescriptions? I don’t have my phone. Bryan? Hello? Why aren’t you saying anything? Stop writing for a second. Are you just going to keep writing down everything I say? You’re not going to use any of this in your blog post, are you? Bryan?”

A titanic toothbrush, seen in this artist’s rendering, will clean the Tooth of Time.

The OA’s brush with fame

It seems like whenever Philmont needs skilled, service-minded Scouts to help solve a problem, the Order of the Arrow is there.

Scouting’s national honor society has helped Philmont recover from wildfires, build trails and complete conservation projects.

“When you consider all that OA members have done in the name of cheerful service, constructing a 2-mile piece of plastic didn’t seem like a huge ask,” Sprilo says. “Boy, were we right!”

The OA arrives today — April 1, 2019 — to begin working on the project officially known as “ToothBreak 2019: The Toothbrush of Time: An Order of the Arrow Project to Build a Big Toothbrush to Brush the Tooth of Time: On Time and In Time for Philmont’s Backpacking Season 2019.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful, so most people have been calling it “ToothBreak 2019: The Toothbrush of Time: An Order of the Arrow Project to Build a Big Toothbrush to Brush the Tooth of Time.”

Nothing to bristle at

You probably have lots of questions at this point, but I only have time for two.

How can Scouts and adult volunteers help?

Scouts, Scouters and families who visit Philmont this summer will have a chance to brush the Tooth and earn the patch seen above. (If you can’t make it, Philmont Scout Ranch continues to accept donations to help with fire disaster relief.)

Considering the toothbrush will be the length of 30 football fields, this will be an all-hands-on-brush undertaking.

But don’t feel like you need to start pumping iron. Given the toothbrush’s length, it’s expected to be surprisingly light: about 700 pounds. That should make it rather easy to get into the Tooth’s hard-to-reach areas.

What about toothpaste?

Philmont is finalizing a deal with one of the world’s leading toothpaste companies. The company, which I can’t yet name, plans to donate 200,000 tubes in exchange for naming rights to the Toothbrush of Time.

Unfortunately, the donation is expected to come in the form of travel-size tubes.

Fortunately, a group of OA members has volunteered to ascend in (tethered!) hot air balloons to squeeze each tiny tube onto the brush. That project is expected to take the OA about 45 minutes.

What about mouthwash?

Sorry, I only had time for those two questions.

Insert toothy pun here

After the gargantuan toothbrush fulfills its dental destiny, it will be carried down the road to the National Scouting Museum, which opened in 2018 at its new location at Philmont.

Museum visitors will be able to pose for photos with the most famous toothbrush in BSA history.

“Some might say, ‘why not reuse the toothbrush year after year?'” Sprilo says. “A good question, but dentists recommend replacing a toothbrush every three to four months.”


Photos by Marcie Rodriguez. Patch design by Kevin Hurley.

About Bryan Wendell 2881 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.