History of Dentistry – Demons and Tooth Worms – Extra History – #1


Babylonia
700 BCE A man begins a recitation, praying for relief from his toothache. To banish this pain He recites the history of the creature that afflicts him: the worm went weeping before the Sun God His tears flowing before the God of the Void “What will thou give me for food?” he cries “What will thou give me for sucking?” the gods offer fruit but he turns away. “What use are me the ripe fig and Apricot? Lift me up and among the teeth and gums cause me to do error. The blood of the tooth I will suck and of the gum I will gnaw its root.” He packs medicine into his tooth and intones: “Because thou has said this, oh tooth worm, Let the God of the Void smite you with his mighty fist.” Thus did dentistry begin. Not with drills and sterile offices, but with magic. ♪ Intro ♪ This episode is sponsored by Child and Team Checkups program of Minnesota. As a parent, of course you’re worried about your child. So you should visit your nearest clinic for a wellness check. Free for infants through young adults. And you’ll be happy knowing your child is healthy. Learn more at the links below. Dentistry may actually be one of the oldest forms of medicine. But it was also one of the last ones to professionalize. In fact, dentistry spent several millennia mired in magic and superstition. With chance, Amulets and folk beliefs working in conjunction with brutal treatments like hand extraction. That’s of course where a practitioner would take a tooth between their fingers rock it back and forth and wait, wait, wait, wait wait Please don’t click away. Don’t worry. We know a lot of people have phobias about dental surgery to be honest I have a few myself So Rob and I have had a talk about not getting too specific about the painful stuff in this episode Haven’t we Rob Yeah, right. We’re not going to have another flu pandemic series on our hands Are we Rob? Good Because we all realize now that not everyone spends their days doing research in museums full of human bodies Some people might get grossed out Rob I think we came to an understanding and Rob has assured me that this first part about Neanderthal dentistry is as bad as this episode gets so let’s push on through Though the ritual that opened this episode comes from ancient Mesopotamia. We’ve actually discovered evidence of dental treatments in even Neolithic times 13,000 years ago Neanderthals were using basic tools for tooth extraction placing sticks against an infected tooth and hitting it with a rock and Other early teeth show signs of having their infected bits scraped out with flint tools But neolithic healers only had to deal with wear and tear teeth that cracked or ground down from overuse It wasn’t until the advent of Agriculture that dental caries better known as tooth decay Became a problem because farming meant sugars from bread beer wine and honey and as civilization rose oral hygiene fell particularly among the upper-class But the kicker was people didn’t know that their diet was eroding their teeth To ancient folks the parties responsible were either demons imbalanced fluids known as humors or the pernicious But imaginary tooth worm that burrowed holes in teeth and gums Some treatments included smoking out the worm packing a tooth with gums and wax to smother it or wearing magical amulets to ward it away Mesopotamian texts recommend elaborate rituals and spells some of which involve venerating and kissing a human skull Tooth extraction was also a common punishment referred to twice in Hammurabi’s code Because in the ancient world an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth Was not just a catchy saying but a system for meeting out justice, but other societies like Egypt considered dentistry The tomb of court physician Hesse Rey dated 26 60. BCE is decorated with hieroglyphics Proclaiming him as the greatest of those who deal with teeth and in addition to looking after the Pharaohs teeth He was also given offices like keeper of the royal records and guard of the Pharaohs diadem It appears that high office regularly accompanied those who looked after the royal teeth Another Egyptian palace dentist cooee was rewarded with grand offices that spoke to his skill treating the Pharaohs digestive system Including the prodigious title guardian of the anus but grand titles aside Egyptian dentists were also well known for their pain relief drugs most made from opium or literal poisons They also used mouthwashes burn substances to fumigate the mouth with smoke and did tooth extractions by hand Further east things were not quite so dire The most advanced dentistry of the ancient world happened in India where Vedic texts mixed religion with sound oral advice They urged daily teeth cleanings with paste in a soft piece of shrub also mentioning doctors who can scrape away plaque and Jewelers who wire loose teeth to stronger ones with gold thread in fact some surviving dental tools Look a lot like the ones we still use today Things were also advancing in the West in Greece the medical scholar Hippocrates and the philosopher Aristotle both wrote about dental practice Throwing aside the superstition that surrounded toothaches and instead studying the eruption patterns and blood supply of teeth and like in India the Greeks also wired loose teeth and Practiced extractions with a pair of forceps barring the nightmarish name of the Oh Dante Cogan yet even these philosophers fell victim to mixing in belief on Critically repeating an old superstition that men have more teeth than women. It wasn’t until Rome however That ancient dentistry came into its own though dental bridges Replacement teeth put into a plate and anchored to remaining teeth did predate Roman dentistry the dentists of the Eternal City invented gold crowns and made dental prosthetics out of materials like ivory bone and hard wood and Rome marked the first time that Dentistry began to be seen as a separate and to a certain extent less prestigious form of the wider medical profession yet there were also people who pushed back on that the Roman medical writer Celsus for example began arguing that oral health was actually a reflection of the overall state of the body but regardless of its practitioners status Roman dentists began to make advances one Syrian surgeon living in Rome was the first to use drills and circular saws to open infected teeth exposed the Pope beneath and Okay, Rob, that’s too much detail. We talked about this wait way too much. I’m just gonna skip ahead if that’s okay Another suggested curing gum obsesses by taking a red-hot poker and are you kidding me? We talked about this man people don’t want to see that David doesn’t want to draw that You know what? I’m just gonna keep turning pages until I find something that isn’t excruciating. Okay. Oh, That’s a big nope. Oh That’s a mouthwash. Really. Oh, okay Here we go in the Middle Ages Dentists and those suffering from tooth maladies could call on Saint Apollonia who was martyred when a mob yanked out all of her Rob seriously who hurt you, you know, what word is gonna jump into early modern times Despite the intervening centuries by the 17th century Dental techniques hadn’t really advanced much since the Roman era in Europe The profession was split between two types of practitioners The first tooth pullers would travel the country as part of carnival shows and variety acts extracting teeth on a stage in a weird marriage of medicine and Entertainment most were untrained charlatans who dressed in bizarre costumes and sold quack medicine trained in sleight of hand much like magicians Their assistants would mingle with the crowd and pretend to have teeth pulled early in the show Proving the process was quick and painless They left a trail of broken jaws shattered and fatal infections in their wake but in their own way they were extending the long tradition of paring magic with dentistry using the power of belief to con audiences into buying miracle tonics and lecturing on the conquest of the mythical tooth worm the relief they offered was little different from Mesopotamian priests doctors and Neolithic shamans the second type of dental practitioner was the barber surgeon Which is exactly what it sounds like a barber who also does surgery see back in the 12th century The Vatican had sent out an edict Attempting to professionalize the medical field in particular the dangerous but increasingly common practice of surgery major surgical operations were restricted to physicians whereas the more minor services such as bleeding lancing boils and Dentistry were left to the barber surgeons many countries and cities followed the Pope’s lead and enacted the split So if you ever wondered what that red and white striped pole outside your barbershop represents The white is for bandages and the red is for blood in fact a spa day in the 17th century might involve getting a shave some light leach work having a bath getting the corns cut off your feet having your wig brushed out and Getting a tooth capped with gold now that sounds relaxing The barber surgeons weren’t saved in the superstition of the traveling shows But they also weren’t scientific and the pairing of Dentistry to cosmetic services Revealed that the people of the time considered oral health to be an aesthetic concern which couldn’t be further from the truth in fact The Roman writer Celsus was right an increasing amount of modern evidence links oral health with overall health for instance Did you know that people with poor oral health are at even greater risk for heart attacks? But luckily medical dentistry was about to get its first champion in 1723 the French dentist Pierre for Shard published his book the surgeon dentist a treatise on teeth and It’s hard to even emphasize how revolutionary it was First of all for sure described in detail the methods of installing tooth fillings and dental prosthetics like bridges Creating a set of best practices of operations for people who had mostly learned through apprenticeships of varying quality but this book went far beyond serving as a how-to guide for restorative dentistry bushard also in a study of oral anatomy and descriptions of how the mouth teeth and gums functioned critically he identified for the first time that sugar was in fact the elusive substance that caused tooth decay after more than 10,000 years for shard had banished the evil spirits and tooth worms from dental practice oral health would now be the realm of science not demons and dentistry would be its own profession, but Science can often be just as wild as superstition So join us next time as we enter the era of forensic dentistry ether rags and the pedal driven drill It won’t hurt a bit Once again, thanks so much to child and teen checkups program of Minnesota for sponsoring this series as a parent I imagine you’re always a little worried about your child. Are they healthy? Are you missing anything? But that’s why there’s free child and teen checkups Just bring your child to your clinic for a free wellness check whether there are new infants of 20 years young almost adult or any Age in between your doctor will check earring vision teeth. That’s a big one and offer wellness information for your child’s age So you can be happy knowing your child’s healthy and best of all, it’s all completely free. Learn more at the links below


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