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How Did People Care for Their Teeth in Ancient Times?

added on: January 7, 2015

Dentistry of the pastWe like to think the patients at my dental office in Bakersfield are well taken care of. From cleanings, cosmetic dentistry options, and restorative treatments, we strive to keep each and every patient comfortable, informed, and above all, healthy. However, dentistry wasn’t always so painless and didn’t revolve around a preventive philosophy like it does today. In fact, dentistry in ancient times was not only reactive, treating problems as they arose, it was also full of disturbing beliefs and could be quite painful.

The Legend of the Tooth Worm

The first documented reasoning behind tooth pain is credited to the Sumerians and dates back to 5000 BC. The widely accepted belief of the tooth worm hypothesized that decay resulted from a worm digging into the tooth and ruining it from the inside out. It’s not a completely farfetched idea since holes caused by cavities can resemble those dug by worms. After being diagnosed with a tooth worm, treatment could include a mixture of heated beeswax and henbane seed, or, more commonly, the tooth was extracted.

Bling Bling, Mayans Had Shiny Things

Known as the masters of primitive cosmetic dentistry, Mayans used precious stones to decorate teeth. While much different from today’s version of cosmetic dentistry, which prioritizes making smiles more even, white, and straight, the Mayans’ dentists were still quite skilled at their craft. Holes were carved and chipped into teeth to provide a place for stones and gems to sit. The stones were then affixed to the crevice using plant sap, other chemicals, and even crushed bone.

The Middle Ages and Dentistry’s Coming of Age

Throughout ancient times and into the Middle Ages, there wasn’t such a thing as an actual dentist. No dental schools existed, and it was not a recognized profession. In fact, most dental treatments were performed by either a barber or general doctor. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later, when French physician Pierre Fauchard, The Father of Modern Dentistry, wrote a book detailing proper care for teeth and the link between sugar and cavities that dentistry evolved as a respected medical practice. Because of his work, the first dental college opened in Baltimore in 1840.

While the dentistry of ancient times seems quirky, painful, and even scary, it’s because of these continued explorations in oral health that we’re able to provide the level of care we do at my Bakersfield dental office. We’re here to get you healthy, help you get the smile of your dreams, and keep your smile strong for years to come.

Serving patients in Bakersfield, Shafter, Tehachapi, and surrounding areas.