Why do teeth decay? In our modern, enlightened times, we know that tooth decay is caused by acids created by bacteria that live in the mouth. But in Ancient and Medieval Europe, dentistry attributed tooth decay to worms that resided inside teeth and ate at them from the inside out.
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Geraldine Gnych, a British scholar who holds a doctorate in history from Swansea University, wrote a blog post in 2017 describing the myth of tooth worms. The idea dates back to at least the First Century A.D. in the Roman Empire. Treatments included the use of henbane, a poison, in order to kill the worms. In small amounts, henbane acts as a sedative to ease the pain in the tooth without—hopefully—killing the patient.
Pictured above is a replica of an Eighteenth Century sculpture from France fancifully illustrating the tooth worms at work.
-via Museum of Curiosities | Photo: Michael Kowalski