People of ancient times believed that the stabbing pain of a toothache was caused by a toothworm, which either had appeared spontaneously or had bored its way into the tooth. If the tooth pain was severe, it meant that the worm was thrashing about, but if the aching stopped, then the worm was resting. Cultures all over the world, many of whom had no contact with each other, held stubbornly to this myth. The folklore of the toothworm persisted from ancient times to the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Folk Cures or Old Wives Tales
- Bee: Honey, a product of bees, was used to coat an infected tooth in the Middle Ages. People smeared their aching teeth with honey and waited all night with tweezers in hand, ready to pluck out the toothworm.
- Donkey: In ancient Greece, donkey’s milk was used as a mouthwash to strengthen the gums and teeth.
- Fingernails: Trim you fingernails on Friday, and that pesky toothache will be gone for a week.
- Frog: Besides spitting in a frog’s mouth for toothache relief, these web-footed creatures were applied to a person’s cheek or to the head on the side of the ailing tooth.
- Funerals: Never eat anything when the funeral bell is tolling, or a toothache will follow.
- Hard Boiled Egg: If you placed a hard boiled egg anywhere in a teething baby’s room, they would have an easier time.
- Onion: In the Middle Ages a slice of onion was applied to the ear on the side of the aching tooth.
- Rabbit: A backwoods legend described helping a teething child. Grandpa would go out and shoot a rabbit. He would bring it back, slice the head open, and rub the “brain juice” on the baby’s gums.
- Vanilla: Poor pure vanilla extract from the bottle directly on the tooth.
If you’ve heard of some additional folklore or old wives tales, please let us know. We highly recommend you don’t attempt any of these treatments, but rather see a dentist for any dental complications. They do not work especially the bunny brains on your teething child.Reprinted with permission from “Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry” – Loretta Frances Ichord, Millerbrook Press
Photo credit – Delta Dental