The Mayans were an advanced civilization. About 2,500 years ago, the Maya already had a very advanced understanding of teeth. While many people today try to whiten their teeth, for the Mayans that was not enough. They would have their “dentists” use a primitive drill to decorate their teeth. Sometimes they would have parts of the tooth cut out or shaped to make it look more interesting. However, their most extreme modification was the bejewelling of teeth.
Some people, more often men, would have small holes made in their teeth that were fitted with gemstones to make their mouths look pretty. Researchers believe these finds show the Mayans were very skilled at dental work, as they could fit these jewels into the teeth without breaking them.
Perez the Mouse
In many parts of the world, when a child loses a tooth, the Tooth Fairy comes to collect it and leaves money in its place. However, in Hispanic countries they have a different tradition.
It all started in 1894 in Spain when the king’s little son lost his first tooth. The king, wishing to mark this special event, had a priest named Luis Coloma write a story for the kid about losing his tooth. The priest created the character “Ratoncito Perez,” also known as Perez the Mouse. The story was incredibly successful and is still beloved by Hispanic children.
Interestingly, while many Hispanic countries use a similar mouse, methods vary. For instance, the children in Argentina don’t put their teeth under their pillow, but in a glass of water. Apparently the little mouse gets thirsty and these considerate children are putting a drink out for him. And in several countries he is known as the “magic mouse” instead of simply Perez.
Back before modern dental science, people still had problems with their teeth, but oftentimes there wasn’t anything approaching an actual dentist around. What this meant is that many people only went to the dentist if they had a toothache and extractions were common.
Because dentists didn’t exist yet, the job fell to those who had the appropiate tools. For this reason, blacksmiths and barbers performed the majority of dental work. Of course, as time went on and the dental profession truly began, actual dentists became irriated at barbers and others who continued to practice without serious training, and now full licensing requirements mean you can go no longer go the village blacksmith to get your tooth pulled.
A toothache is an abominable experince to endure. Sometimes the pain gets so bad we will try anything to make it stop. Our ancestors were no different, but they didn’t have quite the dental knowledge we have today. So, as you might imagine, they came up with many creative ways to stop a toothache. Most of their methods had no more effect that a placebo can provide.
Some people believed that toothaches were caused by tiny worms that got in your teeth, and that you could remove them using complicated methods with seeds and wax. Another method suggested by a medical practitioner long ago, that someone should irritate the affected area with a nail and then, once it was all bloody, jam the nail into a wooden beam. He insisted this would work and that the “treated” tooth would never bother you again.
Mountain Dew and Appalachian
In the Appalachian regions of the United States, many people are extremely poor and geographically isolated. Due to the price, taste, sugar and caffine and probably others factors, Mountain Dew might as well be the offical beverage of the Appalachians. It has become such an ingrained part of the culture that people of all ages drink it pretty much all the time, often instead of water. This has caused a serious dental crisis in the region.
Politicians have suggested trying to curb the problem by banning people from buying soda with food stamps. This seems like an unlikely solution as people are probably going to find another way to buy Mountain Dew if they are addicted to it.
The First Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
While we haven’t always had the fancy electrified gizmos of today, our species has been trying to keep our teeth nice and clean for quite a long time. Evidence has been found that as far back as Ancient Egypt people were using primitive tools made from twigs to brush their teeth. Many countries still use twigs from trees with antibacterial properties, such as cinnamon and neem, and they have been found to be just as effective as modern toothbrushes.
The first object closer to an actual toothbrush was invented by the Chinese. The handle was made of bamboo and it had boar bristles for cleaning teeth. As for toothpaste, it’s been a long journey to the minty fresh chemical concoctions that we slather over our pearly whites today. When pastes for the purpose of tooth cleaning were first being invented, the ingredients were nothing short of nasty. People would use mixtures comprised of ash, burnt eggshells, crushed bones and all manner of gross stuff that you don’t want in your mouth. And you thought brushing your teeth nowadays was a chore!