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Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program

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These fun dental facts will keep you smiling

We all know that the path to good oral health is serious business. But why not have some fun along the way? Here are some interesting facts about the history of dentistry that we’ve gathered from various sources. Enjoy!

  • The earliest dentist known by name is Hesi-Re. He lived in Egypt over 5,000 years ago.
  • In medieval Europe, “barber-surgeons” performed a variety of services besides cutting hair — including minor surgeries like pulling teeth.
  • The first toothbrushes were tree twigs. Chewing on the tips of the twigs spread out the fibers, which were then used to clean the teeth.
  • Like toothbrushes, compounds for cleaning teeth and freshening breath have been used since ancient times. Ancient Greeks used pumice, talc, alabaster, coral powder and iron rust as toothpaste. Other mixtures for toothpaste have included powdered fruit, honey, dried flowers, mice and lizard livers.
  • Since ancient times, cavities in teeth have been filled with a variety of different materials including gum, stone chips, and even turpentine resin.
  • We cannot tell a lie: George Washington never had wooden teeth. Over the course of his lifetime, Washington’s dentures were made from various materials like lead, gold, brass, human and cow teeth, hippopotamus bone, and elephant ivory.
  • In 1905, dental assistant Irene Newman was trained to clean teeth. She became the first dental hygienist.
  • The average amount of money left by the tooth fairy in 1950 was 25 cents. In 1988, it was $1.00. Today’s going rate is in the $1.00 to $5.00 range.
  • 14-year old eighth grader Jon Pennington won the 1986 National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling “odontalgia,” which means “toothache.”