Brush Like an Egyptian: Dental Practices from Ancient Egypt

Ever since British colonists re-discovered and brought Egyptian art and artifacts back to Europe in the 18th century, the Western world has been obsessed with ancient Egypt. While much is known about some of their practices, such as mummification and writing hieroglyphics, most people don’t know much about how King Tut, Cleopatra, and their ilk fared from a dental health perspective. Today, we’re taking an in depth look at what we know about ancient Egyptian oral health and what dentistry techniques they may have used.

Why Mummies Have Terrible Teeth

Although you may have read about the grand feasts and exotic delicacies enjoyed by ancient royals, most everyday ancient Egyptians ate a diet high in grains. Because these grains were ground using stone milling implements that often left tiny particles of sand and rock in the grain. As a result, nearly all mummies show have teeth that appear severely worn down by years of chewing on these damaging abrasives. Many mummies show exposed pulp due to worn down teeth, a condition that would have caused a great deal of discomfort, difficulty chewing, and a significantly increased risk for dental infections and abscesses. Interestingly, ancient teeth show little sign of decay, most likely because sweets and sugary foods/drinks were not readily available.

Ancient Egyptian Dentistry

Dentistry didn’t become a truly recognized profession until the modern era. Records from ancient Egyptian tombs show that there were some people who made their living practicing dentistry. However, dental techniques were primarily prescriptive and designed to treat the symptoms of oral disease (like gum pain, an infected tooth, or a loose tooth). The ancient Egyptians did not understand germ theory and would have had no idea that bacteria caused dental health problems. Common treatments included herbal concoctions designed to reduce pain and inflammation from an abscess. The oldest existing recipe for a tooth whitening treatment, consisting of ground pumice stones and vinegar, originates from ancient Egypt.

About Your Lake Orion Dentist

Dr. Brad Greenfield offers our patients access to the latest in holistic dentistry. You can visit Dr. Greenfield’s office in Lake Orion at 248-693-6213 to schedule a dental appointment for a dental implant consultation. We offer comprehensive dentistry services to patients in Lake Orion and surrounding communities.