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Dentistry in the past

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Kveto from Prague
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Location: Prague, Bohemia

Dentistry in the past

Postby Kveto from Prague » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 9:13 am

A recent trip to the dentist (no decays, yay!) got me thinking. Also inspired by my father's complaints. One of my father's observations/complaints about films set in the past is that the actors teeth look too good to be realistic. I agree with him, your average peasent in the middle ages would not have Hollywood white teeth.

but, is this necessarily true? I know less than nothing about ancient dentistry, and we make the assumption that with all of our modern care those old timers must have had crap teeth.

however, the poorest peasants, unable to eat sweets and forced to eat vegetables and tough meat probably had remarkably strong teeth. It makes sense actually. Much like in modern poor countries, people often need less dental care. they just dont have access to all of those processed foods and sweetened foods, garuanteed to rot your teeth and require medical care.

The wealthy on the other hand, with access to the "better" foods, often had very poor teeth. By the age of 40, Queen Elizibeth I had completely black teeth.

Preventive dental care was probably non-existant, but i do recall that in some societies, mothers would use blades of grass to "floss" their youngsters teeth. however, as far as i know, the only solution to a rotten tooth would be to yank it out, so we would probably have seen many more missing teeth.

And there was no way to garantee straight teeth. think about how many people had braces as children (or adults). without those braces youd have seen a lot of crooked smiles.

So I tend to agree and disagree. actors teeth (especially the white brightened smiles of hollywood) are probably not realistic examples of olden times teeth. but the peasantry might have had teeth nearly as healthy as modern teeth, just not as straight.

Im just speculating here. It would be nice to hear from anybody with knowledge on the topic.

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Libby
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Postby Libby » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 9:38 am

Here's a really interesting link that answers many of your questions:

clickie

It seems that for the rich at least medieval dentistry was not unknown. It's also interesting that when skeletons are unearthed from medieval battles, for example Towton, their teeth appear to be quite healthy. I think more people may have lost teeth in a fight than through decay.

The peasant diet with course food and no sugar didn't always lead to decay but it did put a lot of wear on teeth which became ground down with all the chewing or damaged by bits of stone that were left in the grain.

So, not necessarily Hollywood smiles, but maybe not as bad as you might think.
Last edited by Libby on Sun August 22nd, 2010, 9:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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LoveHistory
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Postby LoveHistory » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 4:40 pm

By the age of 40, Queen Elizibeth I had completely black teeth.


Curious...what's the source for that information?

Thanks for the link, Libby.

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SarahWoodbury
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Postby SarahWoodbury » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 4:46 pm

I posted about this a while back . . . http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=101

The post includes some other links that you could check out, the first one which lists individual sources.

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Anna Elliott
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Postby Anna Elliott » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 5:30 pm

That is true about the lack of sugar, but in ancient Egypt, for example, the sand and the grit from the grindstones used to grind wheat would be incorporated into the bread and cause extreme wear on the teeth. Studies of mummies have shown that they suffered from what must have been hugely painful tooth problems--abscesses, etc.

And if you read medieval European herbals, the number of cures for toothache and/or bad breath mentioned would suggest that tooth troubles were extremely common there, too.
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Margaret
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Postby Margaret » Sun August 22nd, 2010, 11:50 pm

I've heard, actually, that in Russia during roughly the period before Peter the Great, I think, the noblewomen deliberately dyed their teeth black because it was considered beautiful. I suppose this is part of the theme that anything distinguishing the wealthy from the poor comes to be considered attractive. For example, in earlier centuries in Europe, when peasants worked outdoors and the wealthy stayed inside in their castles, the whiter the skin the more beautiful people thought it was (especially for women). That changed during the 20th century when the laboring masses started spending their days indoors in factories and cubicles while the wealthy started lounging on the beach.
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Michy
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Postby Michy » Mon August 23rd, 2010, 5:33 am

And don't forget that a huge factor in dental health are not just the teeth themselves, but the gums. I suspect that, even though earlier diets may have been healthier for the teeth, people in past centuries still had greater tooth loss than we do due to gum disease. It is modern dentistry, dental surgery and simple flossing that combat gum disease. I doubt if they had any methods in earlier eras for keeping their gums healthy -- although if anyone knows of anything I'd love to know. It is possible to have very nice, very healthy teeth with few cavities, and still to have gum disease - which, if untreated, will eventually cause tooth loss.
Last edited by Michy on Mon August 23rd, 2010, 5:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Kveto from Prague
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Postby Kveto from Prague » Mon August 23rd, 2010, 2:40 pm

"LoveHistory" wrote:Curious...what's the source for that information?

Thanks for the link, Libby.


hey lovehistory

dont remember where i first read it but, ive seen the black teeth on Elizibeth confirmed in a lot of different sources.

http://www.historyonthenet.com/Tudors/elizabeth_portrait_of_a_queen.htm

or here
http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/England-History/QueenElizabethI.htm

Ive heard foriegn ambassadors complained a lot about being unable to understand her due to her missing teeth.

actually looking for these i found a nice little Elizibeth quiz if youre interested.

http://www.elizabethi.org/uk/myths/

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Kveto from Prague
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Postby Kveto from Prague » Mon August 23rd, 2010, 2:46 pm

"Anna Elliott" wrote:That is true about the lack of sugar, but in ancient Egypt, for example, the sand and the grit from the grindstones used to grind wheat would be incorporated into the bread and cause extreme wear on the teeth. Studies of mummies have shown that they suffered from what must have been hugely painful tooth problems--abscesses, etc.

And if you read medieval European herbals, the number of cures for toothache and/or bad breath mentioned would suggest that tooth troubles were extremely common there, too.


i think its also probable that they didnt know what to do really. in modern times, if we have a dental problem, we go to the dentist and the problem is solved quickly with only a short time of pain. in olden days, if you had pain it was really too late. there was little you could do. so they probably spent longer periods of time with pain than we do, hense the number of cures.


silly trivia fact for you. one of the first dental drills was invented by george washington's dentist.

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Mon August 23rd, 2010, 3:51 pm

"keny from prague" wrote:silly trivia fact for you. one of the first dental drills was invented by george washington's dentist.


Poor George was plagued with dental problems his entire adult life. My friend and I were discussing this very thing when we visited Mr. Vernon in April. When you really stop and think of what must have been the constant level of discomfort -- even outright pain -- that he must have lived with, it makes his accomplishments even more amazing.


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