Thanksgiving and Teeth: From the First Thanksgiving to Today

This holiday has been celebrated in America for over 300 years. The traditional story states that Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony did not have enough food to last the winter, and the local Wampanoag tribe gave them food and taught them how to live off the land. Most of the foods we have during this holiday were part of those early harvest celebrations. As with other aspects of life, however, dental care has changed quite a bit from the first Thanksgiving to this one.

Dental Care at the First Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims arrived in America, the field of dentistry didn’t exist as we think of it today. Barbers, who were also surgeons, performed tooth extractions. Toothbrushes had bristles made from hog hairs and handles made from wood or bone. They used salt as an abrasive cleanser – toothpaste didn’t exist in its present form. Some Pilgrims adopted the oral care practices of the Native Americans, who used frayed twigs as toothbrushes. Several plentiful trees – like juniper, oak, fir, and walnut – have antimicrobial wood, so chewing their twigs killed oral bacteria. To remove tartar and plaque, the Native Americans made an abrasive paste from the curacua plant and rubbed this on their teeth and gums. They chewed herbs like sage and mint to kill odorous bacteria and give their breath a fresher smell.

Since their diets had very little sugar, the Native Americans had very few cavities. Eating raw, fibrous fruits and vegetables like carrots and apples kept jaw muscles strong. These foods also helped remove food particles stuck between teeth. Raw nuts contained heart-healthy fats that absorbed acid from other foods. When toothache struck, they used several herbs to ease the pain. Tarragon, calendula (a type of marigold), yarrow root, and willow bark all have analgesic properties. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, was first extracted from willow bark.

Thanksgiving mealHow Have Things Changed?

Today, we have toothbrushes with nylon bristles and plastic handles. Fluoridated toothpaste helps prevent cavities, and those cavities that do occur can often be treated without the need for extractions. We should all eat more whole natural foods like those eaten hundreds of years ago.  Take some tips from the first Thanksgiving and offer some dental-friendly foods at your feast. Raw nuts, fibrous fruits and veggies, and cranberries – which may keep cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to teeth – are a welcome addition at any holiday table. Keep teeth and gums healthy by rinsing well with water after you’ve finished eating.

We are thankful for all of our patients and the privilege to care for them.  Please feel free to visit Dr. Kaniaperiodontist.  Call our San Diego office today at 760-642-0711 to schedule your appointment. We serve patients in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Carmel Valley, and the greater San Diego area.