WE TEND TO IMAGINE that people from earlier eras must’ve had worse teeth than we do because they didn’t have things like modern dentistry, orthodontics, and root canal treatment, but what dental problems were they dealing with and how did they protect their teeth?
Gum Disease Through History
We have evidence that ancient Native Americans — specifically the Manitou cliff dwellers near modern Colorado Springs — sometimes got tooth decay and gum disease, because we can see the damage to their teeth and jaws in remains found in the area.
The ancient cliff dwellers ate a diet of corn (maize), beans, squash, fish, and fresh fruits and nuts. Such a high-fiber diet is great for dental health because harmful oral bacteria needs sugar and starch to multiply but high-fiber foods help keep our teeth clean as we eat them.
Dental Hygiene Before Modern Toothbrushes
Aside from their diet being a mostly healthy one for their teeth and gums, they used chewsticks to clean their teeth and chewed fresh herbs like mint, cucacua, and sage to keep their breath fresh. Chewsticks were twigs with a pointy end that could act as a toothpick and the other end was frayed and worked kind of like a toothbrush.