A Trip to the Dentist – Now & 4000 Years Ago

267345_1409I went to the dentist today, which is always stressful to some extent. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my dentist (in a chaste how-great-my-teeth-feel-after-a-visit-to-him manner). Everyone loves my dentist – I can’t tell you how many people in the local area go to this guy by choice. His support staff is extremely good. A regular Mayberry-type experience. I also haven’t had a cavity since the 9th grade, so what – you may ask – did I have to worry about?

Well it seems one’s gums don’t behave well as one gets older, which no one ever expressly told me. And my childhood dentists had me brushing up & down, whereas now the science is round & round, in a big circle….and there’s this really gnarly new type of xray machine….I was getting keyed up today SO I did what authors always love to do – research!

Did I research modern dentistry though? No, of course not – I went exploring back through time to my beloved ancient Egypt and met Hesy-Ra_CG1426_cthe first dentist known by name in history – Hesy-Re, who practiced in 2650 BCE (4663 years ago, folks), and made his Pharoah so happy, he gave Hesy-Re titles and responsibilities galore, including Chief of Physicians and Dentists. He was probably one of the Pharaoh’s closest friends, “known by the king”,  and had an elaborate, well decorated tomb.  Hesy also moonlighted as a scribe, was named Chief of the King’s Scribes and is shown with a scribe’s tools, rather than his dental instruments. Not only do we know what a great dentist he was, we know what he looked like – pretty darn handsome, with a moustache.

I found a reference to three other dentists from approximately the same time, buried in more pedestrian mud brick tombs (so obviously Pharaoh didn’t patronize their offices). They were located near enough to royal tombs to have been quite respected men in life, however, even if not “Chief” of anything. The leader of this trio had a curse over his tomb stating that anyone who entered would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake. Thorough – just what you want in a dentist, right?

The Egyptian diet of this time could be rough on the teeth, even given the lack of artificial sweeteners and sugars. There tended to be quite a bit of grit and sand in their grain, due to the grinding techniques in use.

The Egyptians had a number of dental techniques, however, including surgery and dentures. There’s a famous mummy who, during his lifetime (or so the theory goes), had two replacement teeth wired into place with an intricate gold wire structure. Those teeth weren’t moving, let me tell you! No need for poligrip…of course, I do sort of wonder where the two teeth came from but it’s probably just as well not to speculate. Draw the curtain of history on that train of thought…Sometimes the dentists would pack large cavities with pieces of linen that had been soaked in oils and herbs, to relieve the pain.

Documents giving recipes for tooth powder have been found – I doubt if Colgate or Crest wants to try adding burnt ox hoof ash as a secret ingredient but you never know.  Twigs, rocks and oyster shells have been mentioned as possible tooth “brushes” in the era, or of course one could always rub the tooth powder directly on the teeth with a finger as a last resort.

So I was thoroughly distracted from my anxiety over the upcoming visit to the dentist’s chair and lost in thought about ancient Egypt. Not planning to give any of my characters a toothache, or make a dentist the hero of a story (handsome as Hesy-Re was) but never say never. All research is useful in creating the authentic feel of the world my heroes and heroines move through.

And I’m good to go for six months, till my next checkup – whee! No cavities, Mom!

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One comment on “A Trip to the Dentist – Now & 4000 Years Ago

  1. Great post. I have a HUGE dental phobia that plays a major part in my current WIP. Yeah, I love my dentist too – I love him the most when he says, “Everything looks good. See you in six months.”

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