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Elizabethan England’s Rotten Sweet Tooth

August 29th, 2022

IN ONE OF HIS sonnets, Shakespeare described the reeking breath of his lady love, and the subject came up again in two of his plays. He sets a creepy mood with the “black contagious breath” of the night in “King John” and includes the line “his breath stinks with eating toasted cheese” in “Henry IV Part II.” Unfortunately, smelly breath was a common problem for that time period, and so were bad teeth.

The Class Divide of Early Modern Dental Health

Most people in Early Modern England were missing one or two teeth and they had to deal with a lot of cavities, but the problem was actually worse for the wealthy and especially the queen. Sugar was the hot new fad among the aristocracy in Elizabeth I’s day, but it was only available as an expensive import. In fact, sugar was so expensive that it was almost its own currency, and only the wealthy could afford it as an ingredient in their food.

Tooth-Rotting Luxury

Unfortunately for all those lords and ladies, they didn’t realize the dental health implications of luxurious sugar consumption. It wasn’t long until black teeth became a symbol of wealth, which gave rise to the perplexing fashion among the lower classes of artificially blackening their teeth to appear richer.

The Royal Teeth

Few felt the effects of sugar as much as Queen Elizabeth herself. The people around her knew better than to gossip about her appearance, but late in her life, one French ambassador is recorded to have said that her teeth were “very yellow and unequal,” and a German traveler went even further, describing “her teeth black (a fault the English seem to suffer from because of their great use of sugar).”

Despite her dental troubles, Elizabeth was terrified of dental treatment (or what passed for it back then). Before she was willing to undergo a tooth extraction, a bishop had to allow one of his own teeth to be pulled to prove it would be worth it. (To be fair, they didn’t have anesthesia available, so the prospect would have been much less pleasant than getting modern dental work.)

Dental Hygiene in the Elizabethan Era

What did the English do to try to keep their teeth healthy in that time period? They would use quills or wood for toothpicks and wash off plaque with a cloth. (We definitely prefer our modern toothbrushes.) If a tooth became too painful to tolerate, they could go to a surgeon to have it removed. If a surgeon was too expensive, a “tooth-drawer” or even a blacksmith could do it more cheaply.

However, some wealthy people were making matters worse for themselves by brushing their teeth with sugar paste:

For Our Teeth’s Sake, We’re Happy to Live in Modern Times

As fascinating as it is to look back on the history of dental health, it’s such a relief to live in a time when we get to enjoy the benefits of so much dental knowledge that we had to divide it into twelve different specialties, from endodontists to orthodontists to pediatric dentists and more. Make sure you’re scheduling regular appointments and keeping up with your dental hygiene habits!

Take advantage of the benefits of modern dentistry!

How Do Swimming and Diving Affect Teeth?

August 15th, 2022

“SWIMMER’S CALCULUS” SOUNDS more like advanced mathematics than anything to do with teeth, but it’s actually the term for yellow or brown stains a swimmer can develop on their teeth after prolonged exposure to acidic chlorine ions in pool water. Tooth enamel is so vulnerable to acid that even mildly acidic pool water can increase the risk of stains.

Tooth Squeeze for Scuba Divers

For those who prefer scuba diving over swimming pools, the dental health risk is barodontalgia or “tooth squeeze.” The same way pressure builds in our ears when we dive, it can also build inside teeth, particularly any with untreated cavities or faulty dental work. If the pressure grows enough, it can even fracture the tooth. We recommend pre-diving dental visits to make sure no teeth are vulnerable.

Diving Masks: One Size Fits…None?

A common diving problem is that the so-called “one size fits all” mouthpieces don’t seem to fit anyone well, forcing divers to clench down on the mouthpiece to keep it in place. This puts a lot of strain on the jaws, potentially contributing to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). To anyone who dives multiple times a year, we recommend investing in a custom-fitted mouthpiece.


Disclaimer: the content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Dental Health in Ancient Cultures

August 1st, 2022

WE TEND TO ASSUME that people from earlier eras (especially the pre-industrial ones) must have had terrible dental health, but that’s not always true. While we get to benefit from modern dental care, braces, and root canal therapy here in the 21st century, the ancient Native Americans did a pretty good job of taking care of their teeth. So did people in ancient China!

Diet and Ancient American Dental Health

Perhaps the biggest thing ancient Native Americans had working in their teeth’s favor was their diet. The early Native American diet consisted of corn (maize), beans, squash, fish, game, and plenty of fresh fruit and nuts. That kind of high-fiber diet is great for dental health because the harmful bacteria in our mouths need sugar and starch to multiply. High-fiber foods actually help to scrub our teeth clean as we eat them!

Ancient Skulls With Periodontitis

Tooth decay and gum disease might have been uncommon for the early Native Americans, but they weren’t nonexistent. If you ever go check out the Manitou Cliff Dwellings by Colorado Springs, you can see the holes left by advanced gum disease in the jaw bones of some of the replica skulls.

Before the Toothbrush

Aside from diet, early Native Americans used chewsticks and chewed fresh herbs to keep their teeth clean and healthy. Chewsticks are twigs with one frayed end to chew and clean the teeth and one pointy end to use as a toothpick, and herbs like mint, cucacua, and sage were great for fresh breath.

Meanwhile, in China, some people had access to toothbrushes more like what we’re used to, made of animal bone and hair, and they made an early form of toothpaste by boiling honey locust fruit, ginger, foxglove, lotus leaves, and other herbs. The mixture helped reduce gum inflammation, ease toothaches, and remove stains. Having healthy teeth and fresh breath were important qualities — if a little harder to maintain than they are now.

Early Dental Extractions in Ancient China

The ancient Chinese were performing dental extractions and stabilizing teeth with wires as far back as 6,000 BC! They didn’t seem to be very interested in straightening teeth, but they were quite advanced when it came to treating endodontic problems.

Silver and Tin Fillings

Emperor Gaozu of the Tang Dynasty developed a toothache in 618 AD, and his tooth doctor recommended a dental filling made of melted silver and tin. It would have been a very painful procedure, but it was over a thousand years before European dentistry reached the same point!

Ancient Mouthwash

In daily life, ancient Chinese people would maintain their oral hygiene by gargling tea or salt water, and it became common practice during the Tang dynasty to chew on a willow twig in the morning after soaking it in water overnight. The twig’s protruding fibers worked a lot like a toothbrush.

Modern Dental Health

As fascinating as it is to look back on the dental health practices of ancient cultures, we recommend sticking to modern solutions, such as brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, cutting back on sugar consumption, and scheduling regular dental exams.

Disclaimer: the content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

Cavities: The Most Common Childhood Disease

July 19th, 2022

40% OF KIDS WILL develop at least one cavity by the time they turn eleven, which makes tooth decay the most common disease of childhood. That might seem scary, but parents can make a big difference, and that starts with understanding what causes cavities.

Sugary Drinks Cause Cavities

One major culprit is sugary drinks. That doesn’t just mean soda. We think of fruit juice as being healthier, but it’s just as bad! And the worst way to drink it is by sipping it throughout the day. It’s so harmful to the teeth that the results are called “bottle rot.” Baby bottle tooth decay can also happen with sippy cups and even breastfeeding!

If a baby’s gums and teeth aren’t properly cleaned after feeding, the sugary milk residue left in their mouth increases the risk of tooth decay.

So Do Sugary Snacks!

Sugar in solid form is a problem too. Most of the snacks kids tend to love most are loaded with sugar. If they’re snacking on these sugary treats all day, then their saliva won’t get a chance to wash the sugar away and neutralize the pH of their mouths. That means their teeth are constantly bathed in acid, leading to enamel erosion and decay.

We recommend trading sugary snacks for sliced fruits and veggies, especially if your child needs the energy boost from a snack in between meals.

Preventing Bottle Rot

We aren’t here to insist that you never let your child touch a drop of soda or fruit juice again, but we recommend limiting access to drinks other than water to mealtimes. A pacifier will be better for their teeth than continuous access to fruit juice. It’s safe to use a bottle of water after the baby is six months old or a sippy cup of water for toddlers. (Another benefit to water aside from better oral health: no risk of stains or stickiness on clothing, carpet, or furniture!)

With infants, clean out the milk residue after every meal. As soon as their baby teeth begin to appear, start brushing them with a soft toothbrush and only a tiny smear of toothpaste, since babies can’t rinse and spit.

What If My Child Already Has Tooth Decay?

A child who is already showing signs of tooth decay should see the dentist. We can assess how advanced the decay is, deal with the cavities, and come up with a plan with you to prevent further problems. An easy step to take at home is to limit your child’s consumption of sugary treats and drinks while maintaining good oral hygiene habits. We can help protect their teeth with fluoride varnish and dental sealants.

Your child’s healthy smile is our priority!


Disclaimer: the content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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