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Toothworms and Spider Juice?

In Dental Care, Dental Humor - Oxymoron? on March 29, 2011 at 4:30 AM

According to Loretta Frances Ichord in “Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry,” people of ancient times considered the pain of a toothache was caused by a toothworm that had appeared spontaneously or bored its way into the tooth. If the pain was severe, it meant the toothworm was thrashing about. And if the aching stopped, it only meant the worm was resting.

Pre Middle Ages dentistry must have been something. Dental anxiety takes on a whole new meaning when we’re talking about the proper diagnosis and removal of toothworms. Can you imagine how many people avoided the dentist back then?

Thank goodness we now have proven scientific evidence allowing our dental professionals to not only identify and treat the signs of dental problems before they become symptoms of oral discord.

Now when we recline back in that cushy dental chaise lounge, complete with heat and massage, it’s almost like our dentist can see into the future. Advances with things like intraoral cameras, digital radiography, and CAD/CAM technology, now make toothworms a thing of the past!

Ok, maybe the whole toothworm scare dissipated after the 1700s or so…but here are some more old wives tales to discuss with your dentist the next time you want to do a little self-diagnosis followed by at-home treatment.

Bee: Honey, a product of bees, was used to coat an infected tooth in the Middle Ages. People smeared their aching teeth with honey and waited all night with tweezers in hand, ready to pluck out the toothworm.

Dental Folk Cures

Donkeys: In ancient Greece, donkey’s milk was used as a mouthwash to strengthen the gums and teeth.

Fingernails:  Trim you fingernails on Friday, and that pesky toothache will be gone for a week.

Frogs: Besides spitting in a frog’s mouth for toothache relief, these web-footed creatures were applied to a person’s cheek or to the head on the side of the ailing tooth.

Funerals:  Never eat anything when the funeral bell is tolling, or a toothache will follow.

Hard Boiled Eggs:  If you placed a hard-boiled egg anywhere in a teething baby’s room, they would have an easier time.

Onions: In the Middle Ages a slice of onion was applied to the ear on the side of the aching tooth.

Rabbits:  A backwoods legend described helping a teething child.  Grandpa would go out and shoot a rabbit.  He would bring it back, slice the head open, and rub the “brain juice” on the baby’s gums. 

Vanilla:  Poor pure vanilla extract from the bottle directly on the tooth.

Please feel free to share your dental tales or folk cures – just be sure to ask your dentist about any dental health issues rather than indulging in donkey’s milk or spitting at the frog you found in the backyard. 

Folk cures and dentistry old wives tales courtesy of:


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