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How to brighten your (Ancient Roman) smile!

Since I'm at the dentist today, for a routine checkup and clean, I thought it'd be fun to do a post about Ancient Roman dentistry. For certain skewed values of fun, anyway, since it's as grotesque as you're expecting!

Firstly, Ancient Romans generally had healthier teeth and gums than people today, thanks largely to no highly processed sugary foods. Only one third of the skeletons found in Pompeii had teeth removed, and very few had cavities. Cavities were a rich people problem, because poor people didn't eat as many sweets.

It was lucky they had healthier teeth than us, because getting them removed was no picnic! The techniques of tooth extraction haven't changed much at all since ancient times--grab it with forceps, and wrench it out. But of course, when we have a tooth extraction these days, our dentist has the benefit of an x-ray to see what's going on below the gums, and we have the benefit of anaesthetic.

Ancient Romans had dentures too. These examples actually pre-date the Romans. They're Etruscan. It's amazing work given the tools they were working with, but I can't help think how painful it would be every time you ate. And probably a bunch of times in between too. I don't know about you, but my teeth are hurting just looking at it!

The Ancient Romans had toothpaste! There's a common idea that Ancient Roman toothpaste and mouthwash included goat's milk and urine (urine was used as bleach in ancient laundries too) but it may be that this was never a Roman custom; most references to it appear to claim its a custom of the barbarians, and Romans were just as grossed out by the idea of it as most of us are today. Roman toothpaste probably didn't contain urine, but it did contain crushed up oyster shells, powdered ashes, and pumice, all of which are as abrasive as hell and you're only likely to see them recommended these days by Instagrammers saying that "Dentists hate this one trick!" They hate it because it ruins your enamel, you guys. The Romans could probably afford to be rougher on their enamel than us, because their diets were a hell of a lot lower in sugar than ours to begin with.

For the record, there are no dental scenes in Sub Rosa, because even in a book where people are murdered, I have to draw the line somewhere. And I definitely draw it at ancient dentistry!

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Ouch! I’m squeamish about dental work, and this is going to give me nightmares! Fascinating though. Whenever I read historical fiction, I always wonder about this sort of thing. Um….thanks for sharing?

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