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Medical science has come a long way in the past 100 years, dentistry included. But prior to regulations, laws and, well, actual peer-reviewed knowledge, what physicians and dentists did to their patients was nothing short of absurd by todayâ€™s standards. In fact, a visit to the dentist in bygone eras could often do more harm than good. Continue below to see how dentistry has advanced.
Tooth pulling was often used as a punishment in Medieval England.
Dentists today rarely, if ever, worry about killing, disfiguring or poisoning their patients. People often verbalize their fear or hatred of visiting the dentist, much to the chagrin of many a DDS, but if only they knew how good they have it here in the 21st century, they might change their tune. From the first recorded “dentists” of ancient Egypt to turn-of-the-century butchers, patients of the past would gladly trade their experiences for the excellent care available today. Hang on to your probes — these past dental care practices will shock you.
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Mesopotamia, 5000-3500 BCE
This civilization may have the earliest records of tooth pain, but sadly for its members, there was not even a semblance of dental medicine. Sumerians, according to the American Dental Association’s timeline, literally relied on a hope and a prayer for relief from “tooth worms.” Worshiping deities such as Shamash, Anu and Ea was the common (and only) practice for treating oral issues.
China, 5,000 BCE
Dramatic patients may act like you are murdering them in the chair, but in ancient China, dentists did kill people. Arsenic, which is known to cause abdominal pain, vomiting, brain damage and diarrhea when ingested, was often administered for tooth pain. To be fair, most patients no longer felt pain after this treatment — they were a little busy being dead!
Rome, 1 C.E.
Romans, after conquering the Etruscans, who invented dental bridges, had some wits about them when they originated gold crowns and artificial teeth. Gargling urine, however, was not their brightest moment. This was a common treatment recommended by physicians specializing in dentistry at the time, and while a brave few still swear by urine therapy, there is no real evidence that it helps gum disease or tooth pain, never mind the fact that it is repulsive.
Europe, The Middle Ages
Brace yourself for this one (no pun intended, orthodontists) — the Middle Ages are also referred to as The Dark Ages for a reason. This era was regressive in several capacities and perhaps the most dangerous for anyone who dared to find treatment for oral health issues. While bloodletting originated in ancient Greece, the practice was used as a solution for pretty much every ailment during Medieval times, including “tooth worms.” There never has been any such thing, but that did not stop physicians from draining patients of their blood, covering them in leeches, blistering their skin, inducing diarrhea, shoving garlic cloves their ear canals or taking a hot iron or acid to dental nerves. It is no wonder that thousands of patients died during procedures or afterwards from infection.
Western Hemisphere, 19th Century
There still were no regulations during this time of industrialization, leaving plenty of opportunity for frauds to rob people of their money and cause them excruciating pain in the process. In England, one could become a dentist without any training whatsoever, and for some ungodly reason, arsenic made a comeback in the U.S. for the first-ever root canals. The toxin was applied to kill the root of an ailing tooth and then scooped out, usually without any numbing — that is until the medical community adopted cocaine as a cure-all and local anesthetic.
Fillings during this time resembled what dentists use today, but early adopters of this new method of treating decay did not know that incorrectly mixing mercury with silver causes leakage and leads to insanity, tremors, muscle atrophy and a whole host of debilitating symptoms. To add insult to injury, the fillings were applied at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
United States, 1900-1940
The roaring 20s made Americans hyper-aware of their appearances. Enter cosmetic dentistry, which back then made teeth more unsightly in the long run. Bleach and Tartaroff, a whitening agent with hydrochloric acid, not only whitened teeth, but stripped enamel from them and destroyed gums.