Saturday, September 10, 2022

Hang on to Those Teeth

By Suzanne Norquist

My grandmother used to say, "Have a baby, lose a tooth." That was her experience in the 1940s. 

Margaret Mixter's book Health and Beauty Hints, published in 1910—around the time of my grandmother's birth, included a chapter on teeth. The recipe for tooth powder doesn't seem very different from the natural remedies one would use today.

Tooth Powder:

Precipitated chalk, 7 drams; powdered camphor, ½ dram; powdered orris root, 1 dram. Mix by sifting several times through coarse muslin. 

Precipitated chalk sounds gross, but it is calcium carbonate, which is an ingredient in modern toothpaste. It reduces acids that destroy the teeth and acts as a scrubbing agent. Camphor is used in skin remedies for things like bug bites or coughs. It may have killed germs in the mouth. Orris root freshens bad breath.

Tooth care began in antiquity. Healthy teeth were required for survival. However, until recently, the raw, unrefined nature of most foods provided a natural cleaning effect, the same way my dogs’ hard food and biscuits keep their teeth clean.

Ancient texts from thousands of years B.C. discussed the cleaning of teeth and dentistry. It wasn't until 1530 that the first book entirely devoted to dentistry was published.

In medieval times and reaching back centuries before that, people chewed the ends of sticks to create a brush for teeth. As you can imagine, they left bits of wood behind. Crushed salt on the splintered end could remove the twig taste.

The bristle toothbrush was invented in China in 1498. They drilled small holes in the end of bamboo or bone sticks and added bristles from a boar. In fact, hair was used into the 1900s.

In the late 1700s in England, the first toothbrushes were sold on a large scale. Mass production in the United States began in 1885. And in 1938, the first nylon toothbrushes—Doctor West’s Miracle Toothbrushes—were introduced.

Homemade toothpastes resembling those we use today appeared around the late 1700s. In 1824, a dentist added soap to dental paste, and in the 1850s, chalk was added. Twenty years later, Colgate mass-produced toothpaste in a jar. 

Everyone dipped their toothbrushes into the same jar, sharing all the germs. Yuck. The first tube of toothpaste came on the scene in 1892, modeled after artists' paint tubes.

However, the availability of dental heigene products was not enough to get everyone to brush. By the 1900s, children of immigrants to the U.S. were taught oral hygiene to help “Americanize” them and their families. Factories examined and cleaned their workers’ teeth to keep them from missing work due to toothaches. During World War I, most Army recruits had such poor oral hygiene that the military considered dental disease a national crisis. 

During World War II, the American army required soldiers to brush their teeth as part of their daily hygiene practices. They brought this habit home with them, leading to regular brushing across the country.

Thankfully, my grandmother’s saying didn't apply to me. I'm sure the medicine cabinet full of dental hygiene products had something to do with it—and possibly genetics from the other side of the family.


"Mending Sarah’s Heart" in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting. 

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here:

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class. 

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today and for contributing monthly. I heard about that "lose a tooth" saying as well.