People in ancient times believed that the stabbing pain of a toothache was caused by a toothworm, which either had appeared spontaneously or had bored its way into the tooth. If the pain was severe, it meant that the worm was thrashing about, but if the aching stopped, then the worm was resting. Cultures all over the world, many of whom had no contact with each other, held stubbornly to this myth. The folklore of the toothworm persisted from ancient times to the beginning of the eighteenth century.
As a result many of the rather comical folk cures were developed:
- 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. The bait rarely worked.
- Donkey: In ancient Greece, donkey’s milk was used as a mouthwash to strengthen the gums and teeth. It was obvious goats milk did not have the same medicinal attributes.
- Frog: 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. The worst case scenario is you ended up with a prince or princess.
- Onion: In the Middle Ages a slice of onion was applied to the ear on the side of the aching tooth. Obviously, they had never heard the old adage that ‘misery loves company’, because no friends wanted to hang around people with smelly onion ears.
If you are having a persisting or intermittent ache in your tooth for a prolonged period of time and none of these remedies are working for you, you mostly likely need to see a dentist.
Portions were Reprinted with permission from “Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry” – Loretta Frances Ichord, Millerbrook Press.
Novy Scheinfeld, DDS, PC
290 Carpenter Drive, 200A
Atlanta (Sandy Springs), GA 30328
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