Ancient History

Dentist Dentistry Ancient Egypt Teeth Tooth Decay Hallitosis Bad Breath



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The role of dentist in ancient Egypt was one that commanded a great amount of respect. This is evidenced in a discovery made by a small band of tomb robbers who found a private cemetery for a dentist to the royal court and his two assistants. The entrance of the tombs had a curse placed upon anyone who violated the tombs. Those violators would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake. This act in itself shows how much appearance of their teeth meant them.

The practice of dentistry was limited to the royal court. The rest of the people, the common people, had to rely on their "swnw" known as the doctor of the people for their dentistry needs. The first reference to dentist was given to a physician and scribe Hesy-Re in 2650 BC.

The main role of the dentists was that of research and they kept their observations documented with great accuracy. Dentists today mainly focus on treatment, relying on the patients to take care of the prevention portion. The treatments of ancient Egypt were based on a hit or miss system with hopes of preventing the ailments; curing was not their specialty. If one course of action didn't work then they would try another one until they came up with a remedy. However, if the remedies did not work then they would call upon their magic to destroy "the enemy which is in the tooth".

The dentist's magic came from their god Ptah. Ptah was the creator and his mouth was used to bring forth life therefore the teeth within his life-giving mouth was magical in association. Also the dentists (correctly) believed that the teeth was important for correct pronouncement of words.

The Ebers Medical Papyrus shows 10 remedies for "keeping a tooth in good condition". One of the remedies sounds a lot like how we take care of a cavity. The recipe for a filling "Resin of terebinth: 1; Numbian Clay: 1; green eye lotion: crush together and (or apply) to the tooth". This next one might be a long lost recipe for Listerine. It is a recipe to take on halitosis or bad breath: "Breath sweetener: Take frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, bark and other fragrant plants, boil with honey and shape into pellets".

Eventhough ancient Egypt's dentists didn't focus on the cure of the ailments, without their exstensive notes our dentistry field of today would not be as educated as they are today. It is amazing that Egypt has a family tree of great medical skills as well as mathematical and engineering skills. It would not be a surprise if the ancient Egyptians invented the first painkillers used in the medical field, finding natural agents to numb the hyper nerves in the mouths of the pharaohs.

More about this author: Angela Donlon-Gatchell

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