Dental Health of Pilgrims and Native Americans

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Dental health now vs dental health of the pilgrimsThanksgiving has been celebrated since the Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered around the first feast-filled table in 1621. While not much has changed in the way we celebrate the holiday since then, a lot has changed in terms of what we are thankful for. At our dental offices in Great Neck and Mid Island, we were surprised to find that, according to a recent survey, the toothbrush was near the top of the list that detailed what invention Americans couldn’t live without, beating out cars, the microwave, and even computers. Since the toothbrush wasn’t even introduced to the United States until 1885, we started wondering what people did before they were bombarded with a multitude of colorful-handled brushes that take up a whole aisle of their local supermarket. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought it’d be interesting to look at the dental health and oral health habits of the Pilgrims and Native Americans during a time long before a proper toothbrush was ever invented.

The oral health of the Pilgrims was not ideal. Since they didn’t have proper toothbrushes, or even a real toothpaste to clean their teeth, they had to resort to whatever they had that would work. This included using hog hair tied to animal bones or twigs as a toothbrush, and herbs, leaves, and salt instead of toothpaste.The diet of the Pilgrims wasn’t all that tooth-friendly either. It mainly consisted of dried meat and fruits, beans, and a lot of hardtack -- a biscuit that’s made of flour, water, and salt -- so the Pilgrims’ diets were less than ideal. The Native Americans had a different, healthier diet, similar to what your dentist in Great Neck or Mid Island would recommend today.

The Native Americans utilized the land in order to eat well-balanced meals. They hunted for meat, harvested grains, grew vegetables, and picked berries. This led to a much healthier diet, and a much healthier mouth. After they ate, the Native Americans’ oral hygiene routine was similar to that of the Pilgrims since they also used herbs such as sage, to clean their teeth as well as the cucacua plant, which they used to make a substance similar to toothpaste.

Since then, there have been many improvements in dental technology, and not just the invention of the toothbrush. Research has led to discoveries between oral and whole-body health, which is one reason we stress the importance of preventive care with proper brushing and flossing and regular visits to our Great Neck or Mid Island dental office. Technological advancements allow us to recommend better, stronger, and healthier treatment options. In all, modern dentistry gives us much to be thankful for.

This Thanksgiving, after enjoying a plate (or a few) of your favorite feast foods,when you’re heading to the sink to brush away any leftover food particles and floss the corn stuck between your teeth, remember to give an extra, “thank you” to the improvements in dentistry. Because without them, we’d still be using twigs, animal hair, and herbs to get a not-so-clean smile.

Serving patients in Great Neck, Mid Island, and surrounding areas.

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