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A Fun Look at the History of Dental Hygiene

October is both National Dental Hygiene and National Orthodontic Health Month so we thought what better way to celebrate and raise awareness than with a look back at how scary oral care used to be.


A Tooth Puller – oil on canvas by Jan Steen circa 1625

A Fun Look at the History of Dental Hygiene

We all know the routine: brush your teeth after every meal, floss as often as possible, and get regular dental checkups. While this is the modern guide to dental hygiene, it wasn’t always that way. The history of oral care shows just how far we’ve come, and how important it is to keep those pearly whites clean.

A Long, LONG Time Ago…

Some people think that dental hygiene is a modern concern, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As far back as 5000 BC people were talking about tooth problems. Historians found references to “tooth worms” that decayed teeth in an ancient Sumerian text. While the image is, well, less than appealing shall we say, it shows how impactful dental hygiene has always been.

Since modern humans came into existence, teeth have been an extremely critical part of our anatomy. We need our teeth to stay healthy and strong to ensure we can properly chew and consume the food we require to keep our bodies running. Without even realizing it humans also rely on oral aesthetics such as straight, white teeth to help us succeed in school, work and love (more about that in our next exciting post!).

We’ve Come a Long Way


Image Source

Over the years every culture tried to come up with ways to combat oral health problems. Imagine getting a toothache before modern medicine was invented! As the medical profession’s advanced, so did the ability to care for dental problems with more effective solutions. However, the “Father of Modern Dentistry” didn’t appear until 1723 when French surgeon, Pierre Fauchard began developing the field into what it is today.

Even though dentistry saw a lot of advancements beginning in the early 1700’s, there were still some pretty frightening tools being used. The Smithsonian has a great blog post with pictures of some early tools that dentists used to work on patients. If you’ve ever taken a peek at the shiny tray of instruments that your dentist uses when you visit, you might even recognize some of the predecessors to those tools in the post!

Image Source: Smithsonian

Dental Care for the Modern Age

Can you picture a world without toothbrushes? It might seem like they’ve always been around, but the modern toothbrush wasn’t even invented until 1938. Colgate’s comprehensive overview of toothbrush and toothpaste history states that, “The development of toothpastes in more modern times started in the 1800s. Early versions contained soap and in the 1850s chalk was included.” Soap and chalk sound pretty unpleasant, especially now that we have delicious mint and cinnamon flavored toothpastes to use every day.

There’s Science to Back It Up

Oral care isn’t just a ploy to sell more toothpaste. A 2015 study conducted by the Japan Dental Association summarizes it best, “Moreover, research has made it clear that dental and oral health has the potential to maintain and improve systemic health status.” In fact, the report delves extensively into the ways that dental hygiene can impact a patient’s recovery from surgery. If you think that keeping your teeth clean won’t have much of an impact on your body’s ability to heal, think again! All of your systems are interconnected, and the report explains that while your body is healing from surgical procedures it’s critical to maintain proper oral hygiene. Otherwise, you risk developing complications or even infections that can cause huge problems as your body attempts to recover.

What Is “Good” Oral Hygiene?

The Mayo Clinic goes as far as to call your oral health “A window to your overall health.” There are so many conditions that can be impacted by your dental care that it’s important to maintain the highest levels of cleanliness possible. How can you do that? Luckily, England’s NHS put together a handy guide to help you stay on-top of your dental care. They recommend the following (of course talk to a dentist first before following a new medical care routine):

  • Brush your teeth for two minutes (enough time to clean the surface of each tooth) just before bed and at one other time during the day.
  • Use a toothpaste with the appropriate fluoride concentration.
  • Don’t rinse your mouth right after brushing your teeth, it’ll wash away all of the fluoride.
  • Mouthwashes can help strengthen teeth, but follow the no rinsing rule to make sure the fluoride isn’t rinsed off.
  • Flossing is important to prevent both gum disease and bad breath.

Following these tips can help keep your teeth and gums from getting infections, not to mention keep your breath smelling sweet. However, if history is any indication, there will probably be updates and revisions to these best practices as dentistry makes advancements and medical care evolves.

So there you have it, dental care is just as important as your parents always told you. It’ll keep your teeth healthy for the rest of your life, and help you to maintain good overall health. We can consider ourselves lucky that dentistry and knowledge of dental care has come as far as it has over the centuries. Now it is simpler than ever to prevent those nasty “tooth worms” and keep your teeth strong and clean.

Now Get Cleaning!

Dental History Dental Hygiene Dentistry History Oral Care Tooth Worms

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