Wednesday, 5 December 2012

'Here foloweth medycynes for ache in the tethe.'

During the early modern period dental treatments were mainly conducted by barber-surgeons, apothecaries, and even blacksmiths. 
Barbers were, as they are now, professionals who cut your hair, trim your beard and shave your face.  However they also offered a dental care that consisted of pulling teeth.  You did not go to the barber for a dental check-up or to have your teeth cleaned; if you went to the barber for dental reasons, it was to have the tooth extracted. 
Cavities were prevalent among the masses, specifically the wealthy due to their high sugar consumption.  There are some theories that barbers took on the task of tooth extraction because they had sharpened tools and steady hands.  Regardless of how they came upon their side-jobs, they were the men people sought when a tooth pained them. Their anaesthetic - alcohol.
Those who did not use alcohol to alleviate the primal pain of having their tooth ripped out ran the high risk of infection. 
Herbal concoctions were the main remedies with most dental treatments focused on the extraction of rotten teeth. I found this piece of advice literature printed by an anonymous author in 1526.
'Here foloweth medycynes for ache in the tethe also how thou shall make tethe for to fall by theyr owne acorde & to make tethe whyte and fyrste for ye tothe ache.
[Here followeth medicines for ache in the teeth also how thou shall make teeth for to fall by their own accord and to make teeth white and first for the tooth ache.]
'Most it is vsed and best to take Alume & Brymston and brenne them on a fayr  tyle stone & than make powder therof and put to powder of Peper than stampe a cloue of GarlykSingle illegible letter small & medle all togyder & put it in a small lynen bagge and lay it on the same syde of the mouthe within & it wyll do away the ache anone.'
[you need to make a powder of 'Alume' and 'Brimstone' by burning them on a fire, then you need to add pepper and garlic. Mix together and put the mixture in a small linen bag, then put  the bag inside your mouth where you are experiencing the tooth ache. This will eliminate the pain.]
Take Hony & sethe it ouer the fyre and scomme it and put therto powder of Peper & sethe it tyll it be blacke & than take halfe a Sage lefe & lay the Hony theron & lay it to the tothe. 
[You could try honey melted over the fire, add pepper until it turns black, take half a sage leaf, put the mixture on the leaf and lay it on the tooth.]
For the tothe ache that cometh of wormes. [for those who suffer tooth ache arising from 'worms.']
Take Henbane sed Le[...] sede & powder of Enstnce & Rychelesse  of yche lyke moce and lay it on a hote tyle stone gloynge hote & make a pype of latyn the nether ende so wyde that it may couer the seedes & powder & than holde ouer thy mouthe open ouer ye other ende that they ayre may go into the sore tothe.
[Take 'Henbane seed' and powder of 'Enstnce and Rychelesse', lay them on a hot tile-stone that's 'glowing hot' and make a pipe by making the far end so wide that it can hold the seeds and powder, and then hold over your open mouth from the other end in order that air [smoke?] may reach the sore tooth.]
Take the shauynge of the Hertes horne & sethe it longe in water and lay it to the sore tothe.
[Take the shavings of the hart's horn and soak it long in water, then lay it on the sore tooth.]
For the tothe ache.
Take vyneger & Mustarde powder of Peper & of Pellytory of Spayne & the carnell of the Nutgall & boyle them all togyder. And the tethe be holowe put therof into the tethe orels aboute the gummes hote & thou shalbe hole.
[Take vinegar and mustard, powder of pepper and 'pellytory' of Spain, and the 'carnell of the Nutgall' and boil them together. Put this hot mixture in the hollow of your tooth or on the gums and you'll be 'whole' (i.e. well)]
For the tothe ache or for wormes in ytethe. [For tooth ache or worms of the teeth.]
Take Peper & stampe it and tempre it with good wyne & suppe therof warme & holde it in thy mouthe tyll it be colde & than spytte it out & do thus ofte and thou shalbe delyuered of all anguysshe.
[Take some ground pepper and mix it with good wine, and while warm take a sip and keep it in your mouth till it cools and then spit it out. Repeat this and you will be 'delivered of all anguish.']
Take Hartes horne & brenne it & put ye asshes that come therof in a lynen clothe & laye it to thy rotten tethe & it shall make them fast.
[Take hart's horn and burn it, then put the ashes that is produced in a linen cloth and  lay it on the rotten teeth and it'll make them well.]
To make wormes to come out of the tethe.
Take Henbane & the reed Prymroll of the hethe & vyrgyn wer & make a candell therof and holde thy mouthe ouer the candell brenynge yt the smoke may go vp into thy tethe and do so ofte & thou shall se ywormes fall out before the & than anoynte thye cheke with horse grece & it shall do the good.
[Take Henbane and the reed 'Prymroll' of the heath and 'virgin wer,' make a candle with this, and hold your mouth over the candle so that the smoke may go up into your teeth. Do this repeatedly and you'll see the worms fall out in front of you, and then anoint your cheek with horse grease and it'll be well.]
For to fasten tethe that be lose. [To secure loose teeth.]
Take the barke of the tree that bereth the Pomegrayne & Mastyke & of oyle Libanu~ & Reckles of all euen porcyon  & make powder & tempre it with Acrose & put it in a smal lynen clothe & lay it on the gumbes without.
[Take the bark of the pomegranate tree and of the mastic tree, and libani oil, all in equal measures, make a powder, then temper it with 'acrose' and put it in a small linen cloth and lay on the outer side of the gums.]
To make tethe to fall by themselfe. [To make teeth fall out by themselves.]
Take a water frogge & a verte frogge & sethe them togyder & gader the grece & smere therwith thy gomes aboute the tothe.
[Take a water frog and a green frog, soak them together and extract their oil, then smear it on your gums around the tooth.] 
For stynkynge tethe [For stinking teeth]
Take two handes full of Comyn & stampe it small & sethe it in wyne & gyue them to drynke .xv. dayes & that shall make them hole.
[Take two hands full of cumin and grind it finely, then soak it in wine and drink it. In 15 days they'll be fine.
For to make tethe whyte.
Take Hony Salte & Rye mele & medle them togyder & frete thy tethe therwith & they shalbe whyte.
[Take honey, salt and rye meal and mix them together, then rub your teeth all over and they will be white.]
King Henry VIII granting a Royal Charter to the Barber-Surgeons company.

King Henry VIII granting a Royal Charter to the Barber-Surgeons company.

Sources: EEBO,,,306797.html


  1. The 'worms' made to fall out using henbane were the seeds of the same, and was a 'cure' used by charlatans at fairs to demonstrate to the sufferer what the clever toothcurer had done - the fumes of the hot herb would alleviate the pain by numbing it

    1. Thank you so much for that. I didn't understand what the author meant by 'worms' and thought it was a reference to decay. I didn't realise that they used seeds to dupe people into thinking they were real worms. Very interesting :)

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