We have all been to the dentist. Sometimes it´s just a question of a swift examination and we can happily be on our way, knowing that our teeth and economy are and will for time being stay without any larger cavity in your teeth or in your economy.
But while we may squirm and moan under the dental drill, we still can consider ourselves to be in a kind of dental heaven, we can go from cradle to grave with the appropriate amount of teeth, or lack thereof, at any given time.
It was entirely different for the people of old. You may read that they cleaned their teeth with little twigs, not rarely described not only as general twigs, but twigs that might lend a pleasant smell to the breath.
But here we do need to remember that twigs was subjected to, what should we call them, the forces of nature. And by forces of nature I mean the natural force to for example take a leak. These twigs could very well be covered with the anything from the leakage from an incontinent squirrel (if the twig had been placed high in the tree of brush) to the village alderman and his dog. One can but wonder what of those could possible lend a pleasant smell to the breath.
Then, let´s contemplate that the twig did not quite do its job. The cavities would come. Imagine a time without anaesthetic, sterile instruments or for that matter, anything more than a very basic understanding for the human body, not least the mouth.
Having a cavity today can be, but isn´t necessarily a threat to life and limb. In the days of yonder it was a completely different story. A popular method to fix cavities was to fill them with stone pebbles, but this of course craved precision and perfection. You could not just shove down any kind of stone into an infected tooth but that´s just what happened in Scotland in the spring of 1652 giving rise to, even if not many people know this, the legend of the Giant Stone Eater as well as the expression “Being stoned out of one’s mind” (when you came out from whoever was in charge was of mending the tooth made you lose all the others) as the procedure was incredibly painful, not least if the pebble was not a pebble but more of a rock.
If the teeth did indeed fall out, either due to “dentists” shoving rocks into the mouth of the suffering individual or for other reasons went missing, there were always the option of false teeth. Already the old Etruscans was in the habit of just like some modern day rap artist replacing their front teeth with golden fakes, maybe not for the same reasons but with much the same result. Obviously gold wouldn´t have been for everyone, not in Etruscan times and not later on in history either. So we´re back to pebbles.
(not stone teeth)
Through an extremely elaborate technique, for its time, people managed to fasten finely cut stones to leather strings which were fastened to the teeth at the far back of the mouth and then strapped against the against the palate, much the same way as braces would be attached today. Members of mid-level society, not rich enough to afford gold but still wealthy enough to afford something more than ordinary gravel would invest in limestone which they let craftsmen shape into figures, maybe images of their children or a beloved pack of dogs.
As we all realise if we take a quick leap forward in time, past sweaty blacksmiths with aprons stained with the blood of countless victims of unbearable toothache, sedative which basically consisted of a swift punch in the face or simply a gallon of pure alcohol, we can all agree the next time when we sit there in the denstist´s chair that dentistry has evolved in the right direction.
Jeff Sixwhotsitdorf, dentes intacta
The drunken ramblings of Alex Harvey
The dental experimentations through the ages – Dr. Dehimbje Dëmbi
The drunken ramblings of Shane MacGowan
Crafting in stone and gravel from the beginning of time – Prof. Klippies
My own drunken ramblings
The collected memories of tooth ache