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10 Aug 2021

5 reasons you’re glad you didn’t have to deal with ancient dentistry

1) Filling explosions!

Now that’s a headache, right? A 19th Century dentist from Pennsylvania saw several cases of exploding teeth during his career. His first experience came in 1817 when a Priest known as Reverend D.A. experienced an extreme toothache before the tooth actually exploded!

The pain was relentless and horrifying for two days before it cracked and exploded. It wasn’t all so bad, though, as soon as it exploded, the pain vanished, and he was finally able to sleep.

Historians believe that the explosions were caused by the alloy materials used for fillings at this time. Fillings were created using alloys made by mixing metals like lead, silver, and tin. These created a concoction that would often lead to ‘tooth explosions’.

Fast forward to today: dentists have an array of safe filling options to use, including gold; porcelain; silver amalgam, tooth-coloured, plastic, and materials called composite resin fillings. Aren’t we lucky?


2) Barber-surgeons

“Yeah I will have a short back and sides…oh and my teeth whitened please.” Going to the dentist today can be a very frightening prospect for many, but leaving it in the hands of your barber would be even more terrifying!

It was only a couple of centuries ago you could have your hair cut and tooth surgery all from a barber’s chair. What we want to know is: did they double up on the tip?

Barbers were one of the few professions that could offer such services, due to their access to the sharp tools needed to perform the procedures and surgery.

Barbers took on the name of barber-surgeons to market themselves and their services more appropriately. Fortunately for us, in the 1800s due to advancements in technology, the two professions went their separate ways, phew!


3) Dead dentures

Having dentures fitted can be quite a peculiar thing, having artificial materials put in your mouth for the rest of your life, being able to take them out whenever you want, well imagine them being fashioned from real teeth!

Italian researchers found a tomb in Lucca, in which they found a set of dentures made from real teeth, from different people dating back from the 14th and 17th centuries.

This is obviously highly grotesque for this day in age but was a prevalent theme in society during the 1400s. People would sell their teeth to those who needed and wanted them to make money.

However, as technology advanced, it was soon discovered that teeth didn’t make good dentures, due to simple fact they could rot as well.


4) Ancient toothpaste 

Despite being hundreds of years more advanced, toothpaste has always had the same job: keeping gums healthy, teeth whitened and breath fresh…

However, whilst it may have had the same purpose, the ingredients may have been a little different to what we may expect today. Researchers have found that ancient Egyptians created a powder formulated of ox hooves’ ashes. These burnt eggshells were blended with pumice.

The Greeks and Romans preferred even more unique ingredients, which included crushed bones and oyster shells. During the 1800s, more modern techniques were developing, sort of… Soap was often added to toothpaste to help tackle lousy breath and cleanliness.

Thankfully, after 1945, soap was swapped out for ingredients. One of them is sodium lauryl sulphate, an element which is commonly used in toothpaste even today.


5) Dead mice for toothache…

Reading that title probably made you cringe, but you’re going to want to hear this. People have always had to deal with a toothache, and much like the evolution of toothpaste, the techniques used to deal with toothache were highly different from today.

Toothache was especially common in ancient Egypt due to sand getting into almost everything, including food. Egyptians, somehow, thought the best way to cure their toothache would be to mash dead mice into a paste and apply it onto the affecting area of their mouth.

However, for a severe toothache (and it must have been very severe) a dead mouse would be applied directly on the tooth!

We don’t need to tell you that this probably wasn’t an effective remedy, applying rotten rodent tissue to blood vessels in your mouth would probably turn toothache into a massive full-blown infection and disease.

So, there you have it. Going to the dentist can be scary, but at least we no longer have to deal with exploding teeth, 2-for-1 barber-dentists and dead tissue application. If you are suffering from dentophobia, offers a range of solutions and advice to make your trip to the clinic far less stressful.

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