Medieval Dentistry

The Medieval era isn’t known for its hygienic prudence. It was a time when plague and disease ran rampant, and waste management was mostly about finding the closest river in which to throw your excess chicken bones and animal dung. And, hey, maybe medieval people thought it was ok to drink from those rivers, too. But despite all the negative modern portrayals of medieval hygiene, these people did in fact have some taste and decency.

Certain literature from that time period (1200-1400) suggests that medieval people cared about things like bathing, white teeth and good breath. At Sweetwater Dental, we’re grateful that even 800 years ago our ancestors cared about their dental health. But it’s a shame we weren’t around back then to offer some of our cosmetic or restorative services.

How Did Medieval People Practice Dental Hygiene

People in the medieval era had a variety of ways to care for their teeth, both in terms of hygiene and also interventions for tooth pain and gum disease. As far as pain remedies, Medieval people utilized different types of powders and pastes to apply directly to damaged teeth. Bloodletting was sometimes used in congruence with these tooth powders to lessen swelling and to promote healing in the gums. Some of these powders and pastes also aimed at keeping teeth clean and breath fresh.

Unfortunately, given the technology of the times, there wouldn’t have been much you could do for badly damaged teeth besides removing them altogether. Nor would there have been much in terms of sedatives to make tooth removal less painful (ouch).

Advantages of Medieval Dentistry

Believe it or not, in some ways Medieval people had it easier than we do today in terms of taking care of their teeth. Unlike modern depictions of Medieval smiles—showing black and rotten teeth—these people actually had an easier time maintaining healthy teeth than we do today. How could that be? Because Medieval diets altogether lacked sugar. It was too expensive of a commodity for most people to afford, so there was a much lower occurrence of cavities and a much slower rate of tooth decay than you see in modern people.

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