In our society, it's poor form to have bad breath and brown teeth, and apparently, our ancestors felt the same way. Researchers have found that even prehistoric humans and the earliest civilizations practiced some kind of oral hygiene, whether it was to clean the teeth, freshen the breath, or both. Even though they didn't realize it at the time, dental plaque was and is the sole reason why humans suffer from tooth and gum disease.
When plaque builds up, bad things happen, like rotting teeth and gums. Keeping that plaque in check has always been a tough task, so early man experimented with tools to help out. In the Middle East, chewing sticks known as miswak were used as early toothbrushes. Other cultures around the world used chewing sticks, as well. Depending on where you were in the world, there was likely a local tree with twigs that had the right stuff to help clean your teeth. Once the end was chewed, the frayed fibers of the twig were used along the teeth and gums, just like a modern toothbrush. Some twigs even had chemical properties that helped to prevent cavities.
Seeds were also used in the fight against poor oral health. Sesame seeds can help reduce plaque when you chew on them, and anise seeds were used to help freshen the breath. In medieval times, a comfit made from caraway, anise and fennel seeds was served after dinner to clean the mouth and breath. Even today, some Indian restaurants still serve candied seeds after dinner for the same reason. That's something to smile about!
- • "A selection of Dental hygiene and mouthwash products." Gallowglass.org. September 9, 2011. http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/teeth.html
- Almas, Kalid. "Miswak (chewing Stick): A Cultural And Scientific Heritage." miswakstick.com. September 9, 2011. http://www.miswakstick.com/files/Miswak-Scientific-Benifits.pdf
- "Neem Toothpaste." discoverneem.com. September 9, 2011. http://www.discoverneem.com/neem-toothpaste.html