Electric toothbrushes, floss, toothpicks and more – we have an arsenal of dental care items to keep our teeth healthy in the modern age. But how did our ancient ancestors manage to keep them in good shape?
to play today’s Spell It, where we learn about the ‘array’ of tools available for oral hygiene in years past.
Let’s face it – for as long has people have had teeth, keeping them healthy has been a challenge. According to History.com, the practice of dentistry dates back to at least 7,000BC. But it’s not the clear-cut, precise science we’re used to. In the 19th century, barbers often doubled as dental surgeons, and would yank teeth as well as cut hair.
For a long time, dental care was a do-it-yourself project. But here are the tools our ancestors used – you may find they look similar to the ones we use today:
In the past, most people believed elusive ‘tooth worms’ were the reason behind tooth decay. So, they would chew sticks or twigs until one end frayed, creating a form of toothbrush. One of the first such chew sticks was the ‘miswak’, which was used by ancient empires – from Babylonians to Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. While in Arabia, it was extracted from the arak, palm and olive trees, it could technically be pulled off any tree that was not poisonous. The toothbrush as we know it, was invented by the Chinese, during the Tang Dynasty. The earliest models had bamboo or bone handles, and bristles made with boar hair.
Surprisingly, the toothpaste pre-dates the toothbrush. Ancient Egyptians first developed a dental cream in between 3,000BC and 5,000BC, according to History.com. The cream contained powdered ashes from oxen hooves, myrrh, egg shells and pumice. Even after the commercialisation of toothpaste, centuries later, people still continued to concoct their own versions. An 1860 book called The Practical Housewife, for instance, advised using a mixture of powdered orris root, powdered charcoal, powdered Peruvian bark, prepared chalk, and oil of bergamot or lavender.
Perhaps the oldest dental implement, the humble toothpick dates back to prehistoric times, according to anthropologists. The earliest toothpicks were made from slivers of wood, and then evolved into bone, ivory and other materials. Even quills from geese and crows were used as toothpicks. In the Victorian era, precious metals like gold and silver became the popular choice for toothpicks – at least for those who could afford them. English author Charles Dickens, for instance, possessed an ivory and gold toothpick engraved with his initials – it sold at an auction in 2009 for $9,150 (Dh33,607).
What do you think of the evolution of dental care? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.