Oral Hygiene: A Fascinating History

Posted on Dec 13th 2016 by Florida Blue

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We all know we’re supposed to go to the dentist twice a year for cleanings. If a cavity turns up, nowadays the dentist uses a drill to get out only what’s rotten so we can keep most of our tooth.

But can you imagine getting a cavity in the Middle Ages? Electricity wasn’t widely used until the late 1800s. Before then, if you had a toothache (read: cavity), you’d just wait it out till the tooth was too painful to tolerate—and then you’d find someone with a tool to literally yank it out of your mouth. Ouch! Oddly, this “someone” was probably a barber. People knew to look for a barber pole, which meant they not only cut hair but also performed surgeries like tooth extraction. They had the special pliers needed to get the job done, and patrons would grip the barber pole while they were being operated on. 

Today, the American Dental Association (ADA) tells us that the best way to keep from getting cavities is to properly brush twice a day and floss, too. History tells us this is no new hygiene practice. In fact, the first form of toothbrush was the index finger, dating back to 5000 BC! People eventually began using “chewing sticks” (thin twigs made out of tree branches) and then centuries later took to making toothbrushes made from a pig’s neck hair (gross!). Thanks to World War II soldiers, in 1938 we finally arrived at the nylon-bristled brush we still use today. Since then, the dental profession has made great strides studying and improving methods for good dental hygiene and preventive dentistry.

Today, our best defense against cavities, gum disease and plaque build-up is to prevent them before they start. By brushing your teeth twice a day for a full 2 minutes, you’ll get rid of plaque and food. If you’re scrimping on brushing time, you might not be getting rid of all the bad stuff. Power toothbrushes with built-in timers are helpful for cleaning and making sure you brush long enough. And a good flossing session once a day helps get rid of whatever the brush doesn’t get in those 2 minutes of dedicated tooth-cleaning time. Then, when you see your dentist twice a year for those routine cleanings, they’ll be able to deliver the good news that your mouth and gums are healthy! 

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Filed under: Prevention  

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