Ancient Egypt – all pain, no relief
Poor diet and a lack of proper oral hygiene meant that the ancient Egyptians would have suffered from the same dental health issues we suffer from today. Though they didn’t have the benefits of modern medicine, that doesn’t mean the Egyptians weren’t short of tricks they used in an attempt to numb the pain of toothache. According to written sources from the time, dead mice could be used to cure toothache. All you needed to do was kill a mouse, cut it in half and, while it was still warm, place it onto the sore tooth or part of the gums giving you pain.
But to class the Egyptians as primitive in their approach to dentistry would be doing them a disservice. In fact, they were relatively progressive. Experts from the time studied the human body closely. They realised the risks posed by rotting or poorly-maintained teeth. And so the records show that they developed early dental bridges to keep wonky teeth in place. They also pioneered early dental surgery, treating the gums and the jaws rather than just extracting problem teeth. However, since most people in ancient Egypt lived off a diet of tough bread, which often had grit in it, in most cases, teeth were ground down over the years and there was nothing even the most skilled dentist could do.
Interestingly, historians are undecided as to whether most dental procedures were performed while the patient was alive – and without the use of anaesthetics – or whether they waited until someone was dead before the dentists fixed their teeth and gave the deceased a smile they could be proud of in the afterlife. Certainly, the fact that no pharaoh was ever depicted as smiling by the artists and scribes of the time suggests that oral hygiene was terrible, and that even the most powerful members of society lost their teeth, dead mice or not.