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Five Frightening Facts From The History Of Dentistry

02/02/2017 08:36 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 08:36 GMT

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(image: Pixabay)

Everybody wants great teeth. We're willing to go through years of brace wearing agony, regular whitening sessions and hundreds of pounds worth of cosmetics in order to ensure we have the perfect set of gnashers humanely possibly.

But, did you know that our ancestors did too? Thing is, cosmetic dentistry wasn't quite what it is today but that didn't stop our historical relatives from finding other, more terrifying ways of improving their teeth.

Here are five frightening facts from the history of dentistry 

1. Bejewelled Bridgework

The Mayans are a pretty impressive ancient civilisation, even by today's standards their philosophical predications and medicinal techniques are something to be gaped at.

One thing that historians are particularly impressed with is their advanced dentistry. Using primitive drills and sanding equipment, Mayan men would have jewels painstakingly placed in as many teeth as they could afford in attempt to certify their status.

The worst part of this particularly painful procedure? There was no such thing as anaesthetic during the time of the Mayans, meaning they were fully conscious throughout the entire thing.

On top of that, the sanding down of the teeth destroyed the tooth enamel and the procedure would leave the 'customer' with highly sensitive (yet very shiny) teeth for the rest of their lives.

These are also the guys who also wrongly predicated the end of the world, but everybody makes mistakes right?  

2. Driveway Dentistry

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(image: Wikipedia)

Back in the 1800s, there was no such thing as dentistry and professional dentists just didn't exist.

The problem was that dental problems did.

In response to the issue, blacksmiths and barbers (who usually had the somewhat appropriate tools) took to yanking out any problematic teeth anywhere and everywhere - even in the middle of the street.

These men would simply set up stall wherever the street would allow, and pull. Customers rarely even had the opportunity to sit down, having to endure the agony while standing (whether they were still standing by the end of the procedure is another question entirely).

Eventually professional dentistry was established and dentists vocalised their disdain as untrained and unhygienic procedures continued to take place. Unfortunately, the practice of street side dentistry continued to thrive simply because the common man simply couldn't afford the price of a professional.

3. The Terror of Toothache

Toothache can be terrifying even today, with the pain often proving to be crippling. But back in the olden days, dodgy dentistry took toothache terror to another level.

Some milder remedies involved frog saliva, while more extreme 'experts' resorted to using nails to irritate the affected area until the mouth was filled with blood.

And to think some people are scared of today's dentists.

4. George's Gnashers

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(image: free to use - Wikipedia)

In all of his portraits he may seem just a little bit stern, but history tells us that President George Washington was suffering from constant toothache.

According to the history books, Washington had several sets of dentures made. This included one made from real human teeth, which were reportedly acquired from several different slaves.

However, his most famous set was made by John Greenwood, who devised a set from hippopotamus and elephant ivory. While the dentures did help his overall aesthetic, they didn't ease the pain caused by years of mercury oxide usage.

Mercury oxide was a traditional treatment for smallpox and malaria at the time, and historians believe that it was the route of the President's dentil problems.

To put things in perspective, Washington had only one tooth left by the age of 21. Awkward.  

5. Frightful Fillers

Before modern day fillings were developed, dentists had a tendency to use anything and everything to fill in a cavity.

The filling of choice varied from dentist to dentist, but fillers made from cork, foil, resin and even gum were pretty common.

As you can imagine, these techniques weren't quite as effective as one would hope and patients often found themselves suffering again soon after their trip to the dentist's office.

It's fair to say we've come a long way since the days of gum being used as cavity filler, and I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we were born during the days of modern dentistry.