The Art of Dentistry

Evolution of dental knowledge around the world from ancient eerie fairies to the ether frolics of the 1800s

For millennia, humans believed magic was the only toothache cure; as it turns out, fighting teeth troubles does not need supernatural powers!

Paradoxically, bad teeth make us more… human: our oral horrors did worsen the smarter Homo Sapiens became in controlling their environment. In fact, tooth decay seems to go hand in hand with dietary changes that resulted from humanity abandoning nomad life, as we adapted and altered food sources.

Throughout antiquity and as late as the XVIII century, many cultures believed that decay was caused by worms in the teeth.

Source: Wikimedia commons

The ‘worm theory’ evolved from ancient superstitions about evil spirits or disgruntled gods harbouring in the mouth as punishment for offending behaviours. Well, ancient people were not that far from the truth, talking about tiny invisible life forms in our mouth: we call them bacteria, nowadays!

Charms and magic spells were used to ward off teeth problems and to stop pain. Many of these invoke and refer to animals that show strong teeth, such as deer, hare, mice and rats.

Veneration of the Mouse as purveyor of strong teeth is somehow linked to worshipping of the Sun, the ultimate antidote to death.

For example, we know that a popular toothache cure among the Egyptians was to split the body of a mouse and apply it still warm over the cavity...

Incidentally, this ancient link between the mouse and human teeth somehow remained in the collective consciousness of many nations, like Italy and Spain, where children to this day leave their baby teeth under a pillow for the little mouse to grab in exchange for a little coin.
The more popular winged Tooth Fairy herself seems to have originated from an 18th century French fairy tale called La Bonne Petite Souris (The good little mouse).

Explore below to learn more about the evolution of dental knowledge:

Ancient Toothache Cures

Throughout antiquity, and as late as the XVIII century, people believed decay was caused by worms in the teeth. The cure was all about magic...


Link to Early Toothache Cures pdf

Snippets of dental history - antiquity to XVIII 

The earliest evidence of dentistry work dates back to the Paleolithic and was found in 14,000 year old teeth dug up in Italy...

The Extreme Horror of Extractions

Teeth-pulling devices through the centuries

Link to extraction tools