Pilgrims, Indians, and their Dental Health

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In honor of the Pilgrims and Indians who inspired our Thanksgiving holiday, let’s spend a few minutes exploring the dental health of these people groups.

Our modern version of the toothbrush wasn’t available until 1885 in America, so you’d think that the Pilgrims and Indians of the 1600’s would have similarities in their oral health. In actuality, the Pilgrims suffered from various oral health issues while the Indians did not.


Pilgrims:

Getting to America required a long, dangerous journey on the Mayflower that took over two months at sea. In order to survive on the ship, they had to bring food that wouldn’t spoil on the journey. While these preserved foods were durable, they weren’t good for the Pilgrim’s teeth or diet. Dried meats and fruits (stripped of much of their nutrional content), grains, cheese, beer and lots of hardtack (a dry, salty biscuit) made up the diet of a Mayflower passenger. This diet was not nutritionally balanced and contributed to widespread sickness and poor dental health.

The Pilgrims used herbs, leaves and salt to clean their teeth, but these measures weren’t enough to overcome the damage done to their oral health from a severely imbalanced diet.

Indians:

Native Americans had fewer problems with their dental health. One big reason for this was a fresher, healthier diet. They lived off the land, eating berries and nuts, produce, and meat. Because the Indians were healthy overall, their teeth were healthier as well and more resistant to decay.
They created toothbrushes by attaching animal hair or pine tree needles to a twig. They also used herbs like sage and tarragon as breath fresheners. These primitive dental care tools, in addition to a healthy diet, helped them maintain cleaner, healthier smiles.

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We hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast with family and friends! And remember the key takeaway from what we learned about the oral health of the Pilgrims and Indians: Your diet matters. Don’t forget to incorporate lots of fresh produce, dairy, nuts and lean meats into your diet—Your teeth will thank you for it!

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