This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Teeth in the days of our ancestors

This morning, as I am getting ready for my regular dental appointment, I am thinking, naturally enough, about teeth. My teeth are fine, even at my advanced age, thanks in part to the good genetics that I inherited, and in part to the advances in the care of teeth in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

I like history, and I appreciate it when I am watching a movie that has obviously done its homework on what people looked like. That is, their clothes, how they wore their hair, everything. But one thing that I rarely see is how teeth would have looked, say 150 years ago. And it had to be pretty awful.

So, if I'm watching a Western and the hero rides into town, tired and dirty from chasing cattle rustlers, or whatever, he inevitablely flashes a perfect smile. And so do the bad guys. Yeah, there may be some effort to black out a tooth here or there on a particular character, but, according to my calculations, not even close to what teeth looked like then.

Even if a person had access to, and money for, dental work, it was nothing like today. I recall my uncle, who was born in the 1920s, had teeth that glinted with about a million chunks of gold. And I don't mean a gold tooth, I mean gold fillings, lots of them. And he would have been fortunate to be able to get all that dental work. My grandma, who was born in 1901, was fond of saying that *her teeth were like stars, they came out at night*. And neither one of them smoked, although most people did then, and which would have made teeth even more horrible, with staining.

The reality of what our ancestors did when they had a toothache was to pull the tooth. Having a complete set of teeth after, say, age 30, would have been rare.

So, I'm off to the dentist now. Just brushed with my electric toothbrush, used my water-pick, and flossed. If my ancestors could see my teeth, they would be amazed, and I hope my dentist approves!

Photo: 1903 ad for R.E. Holbook, Dentist, Phoenix, Arizona.
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