The important role of healthy teeth wasn't lost on the ancients: Since at least 3000 B.C., people in the Mesopotamian region used the frayed ends of fibrous twigs or chew sticks, also known as miswak or siwak sticks, to clean their teeth. "Different cultures have used twigs from trees and shrubs with wood grain that is very intertwined," says Scott Swank, a dentist, historian, and curator of the National Museum of Dentistry. "You peel the bark off and chew it to get the fibers to fray out, and then you use those frayed fibers to clean your teeth. They're still used today in some parts of Africa and the Middle East."
The modern, mass-produced toothbrush was invented in 1780 by William Addis, while he was languishing in an England jail for inciting a riot. At the time, most Europeans used a cloth to apply a gritty substance like salt, ground eggshells, chalk, or crushed charcoal to clean their teeth. Supposedly inspired by an ordinary broom, Addis carved holes into one end of an animal bone left over from one of his meals, into which he inserted knotted boar bristles. While Addis' design was novel, the boar bristles were still susceptible to bacterial growth.
Depending on the severity of a patient's pain, healers might offer a variety of unfortunate tooth-worm treatments. "Often, practitioners would try to smoke the worm out by heating a mixture of beeswax and henbane seed on a piece of iron and directing the fumes into the cavity with a funnel," Fitzharris says. "Afterwards, the hole was filled with powdered henbane seed and gum mastic, which may have provided temporary relief given the fact that henbane is a mild narcotic. Many times, though, the achy tooth had to be removed altogether. Some tooth-pullers mistook nerves for tooth worms, and extracted both the tooth and the nerve in what was certainly an extremely painful procedure in a period before anesthetics."
Over the next few millennia, several advancements were made towards alleviating the symptoms of dental-health problems. The Etruscans invented dental bridges; the Romans created gold crowns and artificial teeth made from bone, ivory, or wood; the Chinese developed amalgam, a mixture of silver, tin, and mercury used for fillings.
The use of bloodletting as a cure-all stemmed from the ancient belief that sickness was caused by an imbalance of the four humors or bodily fluids (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm). Though it was practiced up through the early 20th century, bloodletting almost always made patients sicker. The familiar red-and-white striped barber pole originally represented the bloodied cloth bandages that would twist in the wind as they were hung out to dry. To advertise their dental skills, barber-surgeons also hung rows of rotten teeth outside their shops.
"The tooth key was first mentioned in Alexander Monro's Medical Essays and Observations in 1742," says Fitzharris. "The claw was placed over the top of the decaying tooth; the bolster, or the long metal rod, was placed against the root. The key was then turned and, if all went well, the tooth would pop out of the socket. Unfortunately, this didn't always go according to plan." In many cases, the patient's tooth shattered as the device was turned, and each piece had to be individually pulled from their bleeding gums.
Scientific knowledge about dental health advanced rapidly during the 18th century, particularly through the research of Pierre Fauchard, referred to as the father of modern dentistry. But across the pond, Americans were still a bit behind the times when it came to dentistry. By the time Washington was elected president at age 57, he only had one natural tooth remaining in his mouth.
So the next time you're dreading an easy-breezy tooth cleaning, remember the many patients who came before you, and be thankful you aren't required to do a little unanesthetized bloodletting first.
source: gizmodo.com by Hunter Oatman-Stanford