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What Strange Remedy Did the Ancient Egyptians Use to “Cure” Toothaches?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Unfortunately, many of us will experience a toothache at some point in our lives. While modern dentistry offers a variety of treatments to relieve this pain, for most of history, people didn’t have such luxuries. They relied on remedies that now seem strange and downright shocking. The ancient Egyptians were no exception. One of their strangest “treatments” was the belief that cutting a still-warm dead mouse in half and placing it on sore teeth or gums could provide relief. And this was far from the only bizarre dental treatment in the ancient world.

Improper hygiene and limited knowledge about dental care led to the ancient Egyptians enduring many of the same dental problems we deal with today. To make matters worse, grains of sand often made their way into the ancient Egyptians’ usual diet of tough bread, ultimately grinding down their teeth over time and exacerbating the likelihood of dental pain.

Despite this, in some ways, the ancient Egyptians’ approach to dentistry was ahead of its time. They created dental bridges to secure teeth and developed surgical techniques to treat the jaw and gums instead of just pulling teeth, though without the benefit of anesthetics.

Strangely enough, some historians question whether these early dental procedures were attempted on patients who were alive or dead. As the Egyptians believed in preserving the body for burial, it’s possible that the deceased were subjected to dentistry in the hopes of giving them a healthy, pain-free mouth in the afterlife.

Not-so-pearly whites:

  • The earliest evidence that dental techniques were used on humans dates back to around 7,000 BC. Bow drills were used in the Indus River Valley in the hopes of draining the infection out of afflicted teeth.

  • Urine has been used by numerous cultures, including ancient Rome, China, and Japan, for teeth whitening. It was believed that the ammonia in urine would help remove stains and brighten teeth.

  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, dentures made from ivory and human teeth became popular among upper-class individuals who had lost their teeth (often caused by an unhealthy proclivity for sugar). Dead soldiers, such as the thousands who died in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, provided enterprising looters (and increasingly wealthy dentists) with a ready supply of denture materials.

  • The Egyptians weren’t the only ones to do strange things with mice. The unlucky little rodents were used as a remedy for warts, whooping cough, measles, smallpox, and bed-wetting in Elizabethan England.

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