Did the Pilgrims have Toothbrushes?
The Pilgrims likely used toothbrushes with bristles made from hog hair and handles made from twigs or bone. It is also thought that they may have used salt to brush their teeth. While it probably didn’t taste as good as our minty toothpaste, it was quite effective. Native Americans likely scrubbed their teeth with frayed twigs or pine bristles and rubbed herb leaves, like sage, against their teeth and gums. Twigs from some trees – like oak, walnut, fir, and juniper – actually have antimicrobial properties. That means they contain ingredients that kill harmful bacteria in the mouth. Other tribes used a paste made from the cucacua plant to remove debris and plaque from their teeth. This plant has anti-microbial properties as well. Additionally, some foods, like cranberries, were thought (and rightly so!) to have cavity-fighting powers.
A variety of herbs were used to combat the pain of toothaches. Willow bark, yarrow root, calendula (a type of marigold), and tarragon were made into tea or simply chewed to ease pain. A modern-day pain reliever, aspirin, is actually made of willow bark extract.
While these simple items may not match the astounding variety of dental products on the shelves in a modern supermarket, these basic tools and medicines worked well enough to allow the Pilgrims to have their feast and eat it too…
Happy Thanksgiving from the Docs and Staff at McKee Dental Associates