Practicing good oral hygiene is a key way of preventing dental problems and tooth decay. Inquiring minds may wonder, however – how in the world did our ancestors manage to keep their teeth clean? Perhaps you’ve wondered how long toothbrushes or toothpaste have been around. The truth is that the toothbrush is a relatively recent innovation in human history, having been developed by the Chinese in the 15th century and soon spreading to Europe. So how did the Romans and Greeks, living so long ago, manage to keep their teeth clean, and keep them in their mouth in general?
Ancient Dental Tools
While toothbrushes may not have been around forever, actual tools designed to clean teeth have existed since at least Egyptian times. Around 3500-3000BCE, the Egyptians and Babylonians frayed the end of a twig and used that to clean their teeth. The ancient Chinese developed chewing sticks made from aromatic tree twigs around 1600BCE. Toothpaste, in one form or another as a cleaning agent for teeth, has been around since at least 5000BCE, and the ancients in Greece and Rome were known to use toothpaste as well. Their toothpaste used such ingredients as pumice stone, crushed bones, and oyster shells as the abrasive agents, and fought bad breath with flavorings as well as powdered charcoal and tree bark! The ancient Chinese used flavorings more akin to our modern toothpaste, using ginseng and herbal mint.
Ancients and their Diets
However, a common modern misconception is that good or poor dental hygiene is the main contributor to tooth decay. In modern times this is true, but it owes more to the effects of our modern diet on our dental health. The diet of the ancients was actually very good from the standpoint of dental health. The ancient Greeks, for example, consumed a diet full of minerals, nutrients, and fat-soluble vitamins, all of which contributed to strong dental health. Vegetables, beans, fruits, and fish were all mainstays of the Greek diet. Moreover, the fruits the Greeks ate were not high in sugar and not treated with pesticides, so they were less harmful to their teeth.
We could all potentially learn a little bit about good dental health by looking at the ancients. In the meantime, however, we should continue to practice good modern dental hygiene techniques – brush twice a day and see your dentist for regular check-ups!
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