Medical knowledge, research and technology has made great advances in the last century. Medical and dental practices have exceeded their treatment and are with new findings, treatments and better sanitation methods. Curious at how things USED to be? Let’s just say once you get a good glimpse into how “dental procedures” were performed back in the day, you will hug your dentist the next time you see him or her! Without any dental school in generations past, what would you expect? Did you ever see any of those classic “horror” movies that came out in the 1940’s through the 1960’s? That’s the road we are headed down!
In the Middle Ages during the Renaissance time period, Barbers not only cut hair, they also were paid to be surgeons as well. (Gulp!) They were known in their day as barber surgeons. Basically you could get a haircut, a shave and get a tooth pulled all in the same chair! They were known to use aqua fortis (nitric acid) on the teeth that they had filed down and made so beautiful. Eventually the teeth of their clients fell into deep decay because of the corrosive nature of the nitric acid, wearing away the enamel of their teeth. Probably a good reason why hair stylists today just stick to, well, hair!
Not so different from today’s fervent “teeth whitening”phase, the people of ancient Rome were obsessed with having white, beautiful teeth. So obsessed, in fact, that they made it a practice of brushing their teeth and gargling with human urine. You can pause reading and let the nausea pass. Not the most sanitary form of oral hygiene is it? Yes, they cleaned their teeth with urine, not just anyone’s urine, but that of people from Portugal because they deemed it the strongest.With no Amazon or Fed-Ex at their disposal, it took a LONG TIME for a delivery to reach Rome, which chemically only enhanced the intensity of its effect. Not only did it whiten their teeth it also helped fight off cavities and bring relief to people with tooth decay and tooth pain. Pierre Fauchard wrote about this very unusual practice in his book “The Surgical Practice,” which has been acclaimed as the first written guide to dentistry, naming Fauchard as the imminent “Father Of Modern Dentistry.” He said that if you would rinse twice a day with a spoonful of your own urine it would be quite beneficial to your dental health, if you can get past the taste. Urine has a high concentration of ammonia which gives it the successful chemical component for cleaning teeth. (Yeah, I’m a NO on this one too!)
In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs and their subject devised a thick substance made from pumice stone and vinegar derived from wine. (hello toothpaste) The friction of the pumice stone with the clarifying and cleansing properties of the vinegar made it a successful practice of good dental hygiene. The Egyptians also thought it therapeutic to use pulverized dead mice as a treatment for earaches and toothaches. The smashed up dead mice would be combined with other compounds and placed on the area that was causing pain.
In the Middle East in civilizations dating way back, Muslims had their own form of dental care. They documented the process by which they would chew on sticks from the salvadora persica tree. The sticks from the tree contained the chemical compounds of tannic acid and sodium bicarbonate, together forming a good antibacterial adaptation of baking soda. The salvadora persica became known as the toothpaste tree and numerous toothpastes today contain baking soda, so I’d say they were really on to a good thing!
Believe it or not, dentures were already a common necessity in the early days of America. George Washington himself had a set of dentures that were made from the ivory of hippopotamus teeth. These early dentures were a good combination of the hippo teeth and human teeth, and were held together by gold.
The British themselves had an interesting concoction for cleaner and Teeth whitening. During the Elizabethan era they applied sage in powdered form to their teeth. It is also documented that they derived a mouthwash from vinegar, wine and alum which doesn’t sound too weird, except for the fact that they sometimes added gunpowder.
Door To Door Tooth Pullers?
In generations past the most common form of sales was your door-to-door salesman. On that note, did you know that there used to be such a thing as a door-to-door tooth puller? Going back to our barber surgeons from the Renaissance times, he would also go door to door to extract bad teeth. There was no such thing as numbing agents or anesthesia so imagine getting a tooth extracted on your front door step! I wonder if a haircut was thrown in for half price?
If there was ever a time in your life that you felt gratitude and thankfulness for your dentist, it is now! Looking back at history with the information and knowledge that we have today it’s amazing the process and ideology behind all the different practices and beliefs of civilizations before us. As shocking and crazy as they may sound, they made sense then! Generations that come AFTER us just may say the same thing about us and what we consider common practice today. After learning all this strange dental history, it almost sounds highly unlikely!
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