A Look Back at Dentistry in Ancient Rome

December 8, 2022

The next time you visit the dentist and enjoy all the modern advances and equipment that Dr. Dhiraj Sharma uses, remember that dentistry has come a long way. Your experience today is different but slightly similar to that of Ancient Romans. Despite living thousands of years ago, the Ancient Romans had some fairly advanced dental techniques. Of course, they also had practices that we are now grateful to consider obsolete.

How They Cared for Their Teeth

Ancient Romans used precursors to today’s brushing and flossing to care for their teeth. Specifically, they used frayed sticks as toothbrushes and abrasive powders as toothpaste. Some ingredients used in the powders included ashes, seashells, eggshells, pumice, and hooves.

Romans also used urine as a mouthwash to clean and whiten their teeth. The cleansing properties came from the urine’s ammonia. Thankfully, we’ve moved past that method today.

Remedies for Toothaches

Pliny, the famous Roman writer, mentions finding a frog in the moonlight and requesting it to get rid of toothaches. And Emperor Claudius’ doctor, Scribonius Largus, suggested a remedy that used Hyoscyamus seeds on burning charcoal. Patients would then rinse their mouths using hot water, and small worms would come out.

This alludes to the common belief back then that tiny worms in the teeth caused cavities.

Who Cared for Teeth and How They Did So

During Ancient Roman times, doctors performed tooth extractions. Dentures were made using boxwood, bone, or ivory. Extractions relied on crude forceps. Based on the Twelve Tables of Roman legislation, we also know that gold was used on teeth during the time.

Ancient Romans also developed dental crowns and bridges during 500 BCE. They were commonly made using ivory or bone.

Based on medical writings, Ancient Romans also knew that loose teeth could occur because of gum disease or root weakness. This was treated by cauterizing gums and covering them in a mixture of mead and honey before medicating the tooth. If necessary, they would extract the entire tooth.

A Patron Saint

In addition to practical methods, Ancient Romans also had a patron saint for those suffering from toothaches. This was Apollonia, an Alexandrian magistrate’s daughter. She reportedly stood up for Christianity and suffered injuries to her teeth because of it. As a mob burned her alive, she called out that people who invoked her name could get relief from toothaches.

Ancient Romans Had Healthy Teeth

Apart from all the facts we now know about Ancient Roman dentistry, we can also gather data on its effects. We can do this thanks to the well-preserved bodies at Pompeii. Scientists used advanced imaging to examine the teeth of about 30 bodies, which showed that even the average Roman had healthy, strong teeth.

Dental Health Wasn’t Just a Result of Dental Hygiene

Ancient Roman dental hygiene certainly played a role in their healthy teeth, but it wasn’t the only factor.

Experts believe the Ancient Romans’ diet played a big part in their dental health. Granulated sugar didn’t appear anywhere until the 5th century, so sugar wasn’t a concern. Also, the alkaline diet of the Ancient Romans was good for dental health, decreasing the probability of cavities.


The Ancient Romans recognized the importance of tooth care, but dentistry has come a long way since that era. While they are responsible for the first dental bridges and crowns, they also mistakenly believed tooth worms caused cavities.



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