This is a time of year filled with family, feasts, and thankfulness. But when you’re counting all of your blessings, don’t forget to count modern dental care!
We all know the traditional tale; Pilgrims sailed over, ended up starving, and were saved by the Indians who offered to share food. We also know that’s not the whole story. Aside from the historical inaccuracies, there’s one glaring piece missing!
How did the participants of this feast chew their food? If there were no dentists back then, how did they keep their teeth healthy? Well, the simple answer is that they didn’t. People back then had tons of cavities and the closest they got to a dentist was finding someone really strong that could pull a tooth out. But, their teeth weren’t so bad that they all fell out, so obviously they had some method of oral hygiene, right?
One thing that we have in common with our ancestors is that our diets play a major role in our dental health. When we eat a balanced, nutritious diet, our mouths are stronger and more resistant to decay. Avoiding acidic foods will help keep your enamel strong too.
This factor gave the Native Americans a distinct edge over the newcomers. After months on a ship with salted meat, dried fruit, beans, cheese, beer, and hardtack as their only food, the Europeans were starving by the time they reached America. Though these foods can provide a balanced diet in the right proportions, they mostly ate hardtack. Which, unless it’s infested with protein rich weevils, is nothing but flour, water, and salt. This lack of nutrients, especially vitamin C rich fresh fruits and vegetables would have greatly weakened their immune systems, and with it their teeth. The Native Americans on the other hand were eating off a land they were very familiar with. Between what they harvested, hunted and picked they had access to fresh meat, veggies, nuts, and berries. Which is a nearly perfectly balanced diet!
Both groups also used their own versions of toothbrushes and tooth pastes! The Europeans affixed pig hairs or pine bristles to sticks or animal bones to brush debris off their teeth. The Native Americans used a similar method to brush their teeth, but they preferred herbal leaves that served double duty as a breath freshener.
Native Americans also made an early form of toothpaste from the cucacua plant. They also used to rub their teeth with sage or tarragon. The Europeans were less familiar with the local flora and fauna so they would use salt as an abrasive to remove tooth debris, or whatever leaves and herbs they found growing nearby.
So this Thanksgiving, after you’ve enjoyed an amazing meal with your favorite people, don’t forget to brush your teeth. While you’re brushing think about what it’d be like to brush your teeth with pig hair and salt. And don’t forget to make an appointment to have your teeth cleaned by a modern and tech-savvy dentist!