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History Includes Some Odd Teeth Traditions

The ancient Babylonians had a very peculiar way of treating bruxism (chronic teeth-grinding). They believed the problem was caused by demons, so the solution was to scare the demons away…by sleeping right next to a human skull. Supposedly the grinding habit would leave along with the demon. We suggest consulting a dentist instead.

It's hard to imagine how anyone could sleep with an open mouth next to a rotting corpse, but there’s no denying that this tradition is one of the most interesting things in dental history.

While we don't recommend sleeping with skulls today (and we certainly don't think you have any demons that need scaring away), you can still enjoy using your jaw muscles during sleep by wearing a nightguard or appliance.

Mice for Pain Management?

We know what you're thinking: "I have a toothache. This feels like the worst thing in the world ever."

Well, we have news for you: it's not. It's not even close to being the worst thing in the world ever. And here's why:

In ancient Egypt, someone with a toothache could be treated with a pain-killing ointment. One of the main ingredients? Mice. We don’t know how effective this was at managing the discomfort of a toothache, but we’re pretty sure we don’t want to find out. You're much better off scheduling an appointment so the dentist can discover the cause of your pain and recommend treatment.

Pitch-Black Smiles

We've all heard it: in modern beauty standards, white teeth are the gold standard. But in many Asian cultures, black teeth have been the norm for centuries.

In Japan until the end of the Meiji period in the late 1800s, wealthy women and samurai often used the practice of Ohaguro to stain their teeth black. They liked the way it looked and believed it provided some protection against tooth decay. (We don’t advise copying them.)

In other parts of Asia, including India and China, blackened teeth were considered beautiful as recently as a hundred years ago—and even earlier in some cases!

Sooty Teeth

Blackened teeth were a mark of affluence in England.

In England, people blackened their teeth for hundreds of years. It started when the sugar trade first reached the British Isles in the Early Modern period: sugar was so expensive that only the nobility could afford tooth-rotting sweets, so black, rotten teeth became a mark of affluence. Sumptuary laws prevented the lower classes from dressing above their station, but there was no law stopping them from using soot to imitate the appearance of a wealthy smile!

Even worse, Elizabethan England thought sugar was a vital ingredient for toothpaste!

Bedazzled Mayan Teeth

The ancient Mayans knew a thing or two about body modification.

They would drill holes in each other’s teeth by hand, then use plant sap as glue to attach gemstones inside the holes. They were careful to avoid the nerves in the teeth, but this is still a very risky form of body modification even in modern times—teeth shouldn’t have holes in them, whether artificial or in the form of a cavity that develops over time, as that’s how bacteria can eventually reach the pulp chamber and cause a serious infection.

What Will Future People Find Weird About Our Teeth?

Can you think of any teeth traditions we have today that future generations might think are very strange? We’re guessing it might be the online (and extremely dangerous) “do-it-yourself braces” tutorial videos or people who follow the Mayan example of embedding jewels in their teeth.

While we don’t necessarily endorse these practices, we do encourage our patients to prioritize their dental health by maintaining good dental hygiene habits, cutting back on sugar, and making it to their regular dental appointments.

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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