To this day, there are many people who loathe the thought of going to the dentist. The thought of drills and fillings really stops some people in their tracks. Really though, dentistry has made some amazing advancements. During the Medieval Ages, roughly 500 to 1500 CE, dentistry was much different than it is now. The tools and techniques seem barbaric by today’s standards, but at the time they were the only options.
Back in the Dark Ages, only the wealthy elite knew about the importance of caring for the teeth. Many of them had specialized rinses which kept their teeth white. At the time, dentistry was not a specialty. Surgeries, haircuts and shaves, dentistry, and minor medical treatments were performed by the same person. People had generally good oral health during this time, but that was due to a lack of sugar in the diet and not to good hygiene.
Beginning in the 1400s, and continuing on until the 1600’s, the dental pelican was the primary tooth used for the extraction of teeth. Its name comes from its striking resemblance in shape to the beak of a pelican. They are known to be one of the first tools designed to extract teeth. Teeth were pulled out sideways with this painful looking instrument and damage to the gums could happen as a result.
The Dental Mouth Gag was a crude instrument used to treat lockjaw and situations where the mouth would not open as wide as it should. Relatively simple in design, it had jaws which would be slid in the mouth of the patient. Wingnuts were then tightened causing the jaws of the instrument to open which would open the mouth. This was a very painful process and could cause jaw problems to occur in the future.
Before toothbrushes were invented, the teeth were wiped down with a rough linen cloth. During the time, there were many pastes and powders which could be put on the linen to help clean their teeth and freshen their breaths. Ground sage mixed with salt was one popular concoction which was used. The ingredients varied, but generally there were scented herbs and abrasives in the mix. The exact recipe depended a lot on what was growing in the garden.
Toothaches were one of the most common dental ailments for people in the Medieval Ages. Herbal treatments were designed to provide temporary relief. These were also regional and based on what was growing in an area. Some of the common remedies included; honey, goldenrod, mullein, yarrow, willow bark, and others. Often the area of the affliction would be cauterized, then the herbs would be heated over hot coals and the smoke inhaled.
The use of prayers to saints was another way in which relief from toothaches was found. On her feast day, the 9th of February, St. Apollonia was prayed to and given offerings. This former Goddess was a martyr who had all of her teeth removed. Saints played a key role in all aspects of life and were thought to treat anything from stiff muscles to infertility.
We are lucky to live in an age where old ideas are challenged and questioned and where dentistry does not have to be a scary experience. The quality of work done by dentists today is a far cry from 500 years ago. The impact the health of your mouth has in relation to your body is understood in a new and previously unknown way.
Copyright Dr.Jean-Jacques Edderai 2015