Toothaches, and attempts to cure them, have no doubt been around as long as we have. In fact, researchers discovered evidence of tooth drilling that took place more than 9,000 years ago. It seems some enterprising dentist-in-training put down his spear and picked up a crude dental drill to fix cavity-ridden molars in his fellow Neolithic man. The good news is that the process was unbelievably precise and took about minute. The bad news? No anesthesia!
Tooth Worms are Eeeeeeevil!
It was long believed cavities were caused by worms that burrowed inside the tooth and caused pain by wiggling around. The earliest reference to tooth worms was in a Sumerian text dated around 5,000 BCE. Right up until the 18th century most people, including dental practitioners, believed that tooth worms caused decay and discomfort.
Some ancient doctors mistook tooth nerves as tooth worms, and removed them. It was the barbaric version of root canal therapy. Well, except the doctors would also take out the entire tooth. Present-day dentists try to avoid extractions because tooth roots are important to the health and strength of the jawbone.
Roman writer Pliny the Elder suggested catching a frog under a full moon, spitting into its mouth, and then telling it to take the toothache away. Some cultures attempted to cure toothaches with chanting. In ye ol’ merry England, citizens would steal teeth from corpses to create toothache talismans. Other ways our ancestors tried to cure toothaches:
- Ancient Egyptians wore magical amulets.
- Aztecs chewed on hot chilies.
- Romans tried oral fumigation followed by a hot mouth rinse.
- Medieval people relied on sorcery.
- The Talmud recommended drinking sour fruit juice.
Dentists today know that toothaches are caused by decay and bacterial infection. Most toothaches can be relieved with root canal therapy. Dentists can remove the diseased nerve and pulp, and then restore the tooth, usually with a filling and porcelain crown. And lucky for us, there is anesthesia and pain medication to ensure we don’t have go frog-hunting at the next full moon.