Many people avoid going to the dentist if they can help it. What they don’t think of is that dentistry has come a long way from when it first started and has even helped to increase the average life expectancy. Back in Shakespeare’s day, dental care was often more damaging to dental health than beneficial.
Dental Care in the 16th & 17th Centuries
In the 1500s and 1600s, dental hygiene was as sporadic and risky as bathing. Dental research at the time was limited, and the importance of regular dental hygiene to prevent tooth decay was not well understood. The first toothbrushes were not even invented until the 1800s. Instead, people tried to remove stains by scrubbing their teeth with coral, pumice, and stone, effectively removing dental enamel and leaving their teeth vulnerable. Other stain remedies included rubbing a mixture of vinegar and honey onto stained teeth. This mixture, combined with the loss of enamel, left many people with rotting teeth.
Queen Elizabeth I’s Teeth
Queen Elizabeth I gives us a picture of what oral health was like during the Elizabethan period. When Andre Hurault-Sieur de Maisse, the French ambassador to Elizabeth’s court visited Her Highness in 1597, he gives us many details about her oral health problems. For example, she notes that she had to delay her appointment with Maisse because she was ill with a swollen face (possibly related to an abscess). Maisse also says:
“…her teeth are very yellow and unequal, compared with what they were formerly, so they say, and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly.”
If you notice any swelling in your face like Queen Elizabeth, don’t let it go untreated. Swelling is a sign of an infection that requires immediate attention. Contact our Spokane dentists if you notice swelling, fever, pain, or inflammation in your mouth.
Combating Tooth Decay During the Elizabethan Era
People were not blind to the tooth decay they experienced; they just did not know what they could do to prevent it. Missing teeth due to tooth decay was not uncommon in Elizabethan times. What teeth did not fall out from decay were often removed by dentists and doctors without anesthetics. Tooth decay and old age were so closely associated that even Shakespeare’s writing reflects this relationship.
In As You Like It, the character Jaques ends his monologue on life being a stage by saying that in death, we leave “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (II.7). The lack of dental hygiene and an influx of sugar among those who could afford it lead to an interesting cosmetic choice.
While most dentists today like Dr. Ken and Marnie Collins at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics offer tooth whitening so that everyone can show off their brightest smiles, it became a popular practice to use coal to blacken teeth in the 16th and 17th centuries. This may have been due to the affluent having more access to sugars than the poor, causing them to have darker stains and more tooth decay than those without money. Darkened teeth, therefore, became a status symbol. Don’t’ worry, you don’t need to blacken your teeth to achieve a status symbol today. Instead, opt for professional teeth whitening in Spokane to remove years of staining!
Dental Hygiene Misconception: Bad Breath was Dangerous
One common belief about dental hygiene during that time was that bad breath was dangerous. A wide belief shared at the time was that a person could even catch the plague from inhaling the fumes of odiferous breath from those around them. To combat bad breath, people would mouthwash with water and vinegar, followed by anise seeds, cloves, and wine-soaked mint leaves. In Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Cymbeline, chewing eglantine, or eucalyptus was a way to sweeten one’s breath.
Today if you suffer from bad breath, you likely just need professional dental cleaning. However, our Spokane dentists offer professional bad breath treatment that can cure even the foulest breath.
Dentistry in Spokane, Today
Since the time of Shakespeare, dentistry has advanced tremendously. In the 21st century, people need their teeth to stay with them into their 80’s and 90’s. Fortunately, we have learned a lot about the importance of cleaning our teeth every day, with the added benefit of regular dental visits that can help us clean away and deal with problems that a toothbrush can’t take care of on its own. Gone are the days of blackening rotten teeth with charcoal and excruciating extractions without anesthesia, today we have highly qualified cosmetic dentists to make our smile look great.
At our dental office in Spokane, we can help you avoid a decaying smile like Queen Elizabeth I. Instead, we can provide you with the preventive dentistry you need for a long-lasting healthy smile. From regular cleanings and exams to restorative procedures like tooth-colored fillings, we offer all the dental treatments you might need to improve your oral health.
If you want to learn more about what regular dental care can do for you, please call (509) 532-1111 for an appointment with a Spokane dentist at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics today.