How did ancient civilisations deal with toothaches?

Perhaps they were just hardcore, whenever they experienced a sensation of pain in their teeth, they lifted a stone and right smashed on the infected teeth – No teeth – no pain!

But jokes apart, it makes sense that they would have had to face the pain as they were meat-eaters and never bothered to brush their teeth. Natural remedies like salt or clove drops could have been used to rinse their mouth as it soothes the pain or could have used natural ways of brushing such as Miswak twigs or any other herbal plant that could prevent such problems.

Before the invention of the toothbrush, people used water, and cloth to clean their teeth. The ancient Egyptian made a kind of brush by splitting the end of a twig into two or more, this made an oral care product for them.

Instead of attributing the pain to cavities, toothaches were widely believed to be the work of a mythical creature called a tooth worm. Modern dentistry was centuries away, and people lacked an explanation for the tiny holes they would sometimes find in their teeth.

A sort of “urban legend”, the tooth worm was believed to bore holes in teeth, then cause pain by wriggling around inside the tooth. Some “dentists” back then even mistook tooth roots for tooth worms and would brutally extract the tooth in efforts to cure the pain. The legend continued all the way to the 18th century when Western civilisation replaced that theory by rightfully attributing toothaches to tooth decay and cavities.

There were dozens of attempts to cure toothaches in the ancient world, many of them painful and ineffective. Here is a sample of some ancient remedies (aside from extractions):

  • Burning the cavity with a hot probe
  • Chewing on hot chilis
  • Fumigating the worm from the body by boiling a mixture goat fat, onions and other ingredients
  • Filling the cavity with wax then using a hot probe to burn it out
  • Chewing cloves (this one’s not bad cloves have natural analgesic and antibacterial properties)
  • Filling the cavity with a piece of garlic or black peppercorn

Comparative to today’s era, they had less dental problems as they didn’t have the carbonated drinks loaded with sugar or the starchy food that causes the major dental problems. Nor chocolates that could cause cavities or coffee that could stain the enamel.
Some types of tree branches have been found in Uganda, that are linked to the oral care products of the cavemen which people still use today to clean their teeth.

But whatever their secret was, the Anthropologic evidence tells that they had pretty healthy teeth and were only affected by dental problems such as gum diseases, cavities, or teeth grinding. This may lead us towards the conclusion that they could’ve followed standard oral care habits to keep their teeth clean.

Today, we have brilliant products such as electric brushes, floss, teeth whitening and of course skilled professionals with the right tools and technology to maintain proper oral care and keep our teeth healthy.

If the cavemen cared enough for their teeth then so should you! Book your appointment with Corne Smith Dentistry in Claremont, Cape Town today to keep your oral health out of prehistoric times.

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