young girl holding lost tooth in hand

Oral Hygiene Through the Years

Setting the Record Straight

There is a common misconception that ancient people didn’t care about their kids’ tooth care, or their own for that matter. Egyptologists, opening tombs that haven’t been touched in 5000 years, find mummies with worn-down nubs for teeth and the world turns to one another and says, “see? They didn’t care.”

And yet, a few more excavations turn up ancient toothbrushes or mummies with orthodontia. Why then does every ancient mummy have worn-down teeth? The answer is simpler than one might think: Egypt is a desert, which means sand; sand blows into the dough as they make their bread; crunchy bread every day means grinding, worn-down teeth

The more we learn about our ancestors’ daily habits, the more the truth becomes clear: bad teeth aren’t necessarily evidence of hygienic apathy — they simply didn’t have the tools to make a difference. Pediatric dentistry, much like regular dentistry, was a new concept that would take millennia to develop.

A Timeline of Oral Hygiene 

Much of what we know about oral hygiene in ancient days comes from two sources: archaeological discoveries of papyri and the cleaning tools themselves, and the writings of the grandfather of modern medicine, Hippocrates

5,000 – 3,000 BCE

For thousands of years prior to the classical Greek thinkers, ancient doctors saw the holes in their teeth caused by bacteria and thought that worms had crawled into their mouths during the night, chewing through the enamel. 

From Egypt to Turkey, to Iraq and beyond, writings have indicated that the earliest dentists were using frayed sticks as toothbrushes and slivers of bark as toothpicks. This continued for thousands of years. Even in the modern villages of tribespeople in Africa and Australia, these same techniques are practiced.

700 – 300 BCE 

As civilizations advanced, so too did the dental care of children and adults. China was pioneering formulae for the first toothpaste, while the Romans were melting down gold to use as crowns for their teeth. 

Then, only a few centuries before the common era, Hippocrates arrived on the scene. Thanks to his pioneering efforts in understanding how the human body works, we have a historical record of surprisingly advanced theories regarding:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth extraction
  • Dentures
  • Braces

These advancements, along with the invention of dental tooth scrapers in Arabia, led to a breakthrough in the medical practice of both adult and pediatric dentistry.

1500 – 1800 CE

The writings didn’t stop with the ancient cuneiform or Greek texts. As literacy rates rose throughout Europe, several books were written that would today be considered doctoral dissertations or textbooks. These included:

  • “The Little Medicinal Book for all Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth,” the first book entirely about dentistry.
  • “The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth,” detailing oral anatomy and advanced surgical techniques.

Now with the mouth officially mapped out and centuries of experimentation to draw from, the world was set to embark on the final frontier of the practice, something that would push dentistry into the modern era for good: mass-market monetization. 

1800 – Today

As soon as products were being created and sold in mass quantities, kids’ tooth care became a concern for parents, dentists, and CEOs alike. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we now have endless resources to ensure that our kids have a full mouth of healthy teeth that they can keep white their entire lives.

In Utah, children’s dental care is of extreme importance. As such, Timpanogos Pediatric Dentistry is committed to making the latest and best knowledge in the practice of dentistry available to our kids. Give us a call today to schedule their next check-up and let’s let centuries of advancement work for us. 


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