The History Of Dentistry pt. III - Ancient Rome and the Unhappy Medieval Times

Toothaches are one of those things that we can be sure even our forefathers dealt with. We shudder when we hear how some people solve their toothaches with a monkey wrench. Our elders also had some pretty good solutions as well. In these articles, you can see the evolution of dentistry into its present form.


The Romans learned much by the way of culture and medicine from the Etruscans, who had managed to invent a filling and even rudimentary prostheses. They made gold teeth, which were usually removed from the mouths of the dead, as putting gold near the dead was strictly forbidden by Etruscans customs. Roman dentists had already discovered the use of scary drills and clamps for the removal of teeth. They used opium as a pain medication, but folk medicine was also prevalent, including such oddities as worms, crow excrement and the brains of numerous frogs.

Expanding Dental Middle Ages

After the downfall of the Roman empire, Byzantium managed to save the works of Galenos of pergamon, who was the physician of Marcus Aurelius, as well as those of Cornelius Celsus, but there was practically nothing more by the way of dentistry except these works, and of course folk medicine, if that helped at all. Many people simply prayed to Saint Apollonia, as she was the patron saint of dentists, dentistry and dental ills. Not because she was a healer, but because she had all of her teeth knocked out during her martyrdom in the third century.

Given that the position of dentist did not exist in those days, the position was filled by barbers- they were the ones who rmeoved the loose teeth form the infected, pustulated gums, and this tradition of barbers doing dental work lasted well into the twentieth century in most Western European countries. They abstained from extractions even if incredible pain was felt, using it only as a last resort, understanding the severity of such actions. The burning of incense, severing of veins and the use of leeches did not help much. They usually waited until the tooth was loose enough that not much extraction was needed.    


Dentistry was not as important even in the XVIIth century as all other ills seemed to be. Doctors and medics roamed the countryside and did not spend too much time with dentistry, and you could get dental work done if you got luck and the doctor was in your area at the appropriate time. They usually did extractions, and the instrument they used to extract teeth was known as the pelican. The main attribute that differentiated good medics and barbers from bad ones was, unsurprisingly, the speed at which they worked. The quicker ti was done, the better the medic!  

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