A Bite Out Of History
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Onion: In the Middle Ages a slice of onion was applied to the ear on the side of the aching tooth.
Reprinted with permission from "Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry" – Loretta Frances Ichord, Millerbrook Press.