In Ancient Greece, you just had to grin and bear itâ¦
Since they didn’t eat much sugar or any processed foods, tooth decay was not such a widespread problem in Ancient Greece. But still, given that people used twigs for toothbrushes and urine for mouthwash, cavities still happened, and there was some knowledge of treating them. Indeed, two of the era’s brightest minds, Aristotle and Hippocrates, wrote extensively about dentistry. Not only did they explore the reasons they believed teeth went bad, they also wrote about how problems should be treated.
Interestingly, forensic archaeologists have found evidence to suggest that, unlike in later cultures, tooth extraction was not encouraged in Ancient Greece. Indeed, it was apparently to be avoided at all costs. The Greeks valued their teeth and would, it’s believed, endure significant amounts of pain rather than have them pulled out. Some mummified bodies from the time show signs of serious dental problems. For instance, some are believed to have died as a result of infections caused by untreated cavities. While linen soaked in medicinal plants were stuffed into cavities to ease the pain and stop food getting in there, no real effort was made to take a tooth out – for a Greek, it was better to be in great pain than to suffer the indignity of losing a tooth.
Such an attitude towards teeth was also prevalent in Ancient Rome. Here, historians also believe that losing a tooth would have been shameful, and to be avoided at all costs. As an article in the Roman Law of Twelve Tables, penned in 450BC, warned: “Whoever shall cause the tooth of a freeman to be knocked out shall pay a fine of 300AS” (a princely sum in those days).