A Little Dental History: Ancient Egypt

Remember learning about all of the Pyramids and Pharaohs of ancient Egypt? Unsurprisingly Egyptians from ~3000b.c. to ~300bc also had teeth, and those teeth also had the same issues we deal today.

Courtesy of ©Egyptian Museum, Cairo

You may have seen images similar to the bridgework completed above making note that Egyptians may have been skilled in dentistry. That is apparently not the case after a little more digging.

There has only been a total of three bridges similar to the one above excavated out of tombs. And it appears that they were never really in function, only put in place postmortem for deliverance into the afterlife1.

Extensive research has been conducted as to whether or not the skilled craftsmen/women of Egypt filled cavities, similar to how dentists do today. But even though Egyptians had access to gold and other potential filling materials, no fillings have ever been documented1.

Speaking of filling cavities, one of the papyrus’ found in Egypt does describe that they thought small tooth worms caused cavities. Not quite worms, but that’s close enough to the bacterial cause of cavities we know of today2.

After much debate it seems as though the Egyptians, for all of their technological advances, did not do much dentistry other than pastes and simple mouthwashes. So it appears those poor souls lived through some pain. But they did give us some pretty sweet Pyramids.

  1. Forshaw, R. The practice of dentistry in ancient Egypt. Br Dent J 206, 481–486 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bdj.2009.355
  2. Caminos R A . Late Egyptian miscellanies. Brown Egyptological Studies, 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1954.

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