Last week, the Texas Renaissance Festival began in Plantersville. Every weekend between now and the end of November, you can enjoy melodious minstrels, tasty feasts, and exciting jousts, traveling back in time to the fifteenth century for an afternoon of fun. You’ll experience how people dressed, ate, and entertained themselves back in the Renaissance, but how did they clean their teeth? This week, we’ll cover the fascinating and sometimes zany dental history of the Renaissance.
Da Vinci’s Molars
The Renaissance was a period of revival for arts, literature, science, and philosophy, so it should come as no surprise that some important advances in dentistry happened during this era. The original multitalented “Renaissance man,” Leonardo Da Vinci did extensive work on human anatomy and was the first person to ever recognize and note the difference between molars (the three furthest back teeth in the mouth) and premolars (those four slightly smaller teeth that sit in front of them). This was a monumental moment in mapping the jaw and tooth root structures that we use to treat patients in the modern era (such as those needing dental implants). You can see Da Vinci’s handwritten notes on the subject here.
The First Dentists
Near the end of the Renaissance, the first dentists began practicing their craft. However, this form of dentistry was far different from what you’d experience at dental offices today. Rather than properly cleaning teeth or diagnosing and treating oral diseases, dentists simply extracted troublesome teeth (and with only very primitive anesthesia!). Fortunately, the practice has evolved exponentially in the last four centuries, and now we do everything we can to help you keep your teeth with proper dental hygiene and periodontal care.
People have always been concerned about the look and feel of their teeth, and the Renaissance was no exception. Some of their daily practices weren’t so far off from our own—in 1525, Bankes’ Herbal, a book of remedies, published a prescription for bad breath: “For the stinking of the mouth and filth of the gums and teeth, wash thy mouth and gums with vinegar that mints have been sodden in; after that, rub them with the powder of mints or with dry mints.” Many mouthwashes and toothpastes still use mint to freshen breath, but steer clear of vinegar washes—they can certainly kill germs, but they also erode your tooth enamel. People also used salt scrubs to clean their teeth. While strange, this actually has some scientific basis—salt is a natural disinfectant and its abrasion could remove plaque buildup.
Minty rinses and salty pastes might have been somewhat effective, but other fifteenth century “remedies” were actually quite destructive. For example, Renaissance folk believed that rubs of charcoal and alum (a substance much like aluminum, often used as a dye) kept “they teeth from all evils” and slain the “worms” within the teeth. Charcoal could potentially act as a basic whitening agent for the teeth, but alum is often toxic. In addition, many people used wine to rinse, wash, and “whiten” their teeth, which would have only served to stain and erode their enamel with its acidity and color.
Have Twenty-First Century Teeth
While it can be fun to experience Renaissance life for a weekend, we are fortunate to live in a century of much more sophisticated dental care. Contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S. to learn more about caring for your smile with basic cleanings and some of the latest dental technology, such as Zoom! Advanced Power Whitening (which is much more effective than wine!).
Image Source: flickr.com/photos/bradbox/