The attendant extravagances of pain associated with dental problems in the 21st century make me seriously wonder how humanity survived to this point. I had a ‘lovely’ time not all that long ago with a dental abscess, followed quickly by more problems in teeth close to the same spot (the original problem causing tooth having been pulled) and honestly I began to think I was losing my mind. It absolutely ruined me for anything for days. I had this vague memory that dental pain was attributed to tooth worms in period and then I sort of fell down another rabbit hole to find out some more about what they would actually have done. I thought, for example, the clove might have been mentioned since in modern times we use clove oil, and indeed I spent several days with a collection of whole cloves strategically placed to give maximum clove goodness to the offending tooth. (It really helps, too) Instead I mostly came up with amulets, charms, smoking methods, and some herbal remedies, some of which were extremely entertaining. And a surprisingly large amount of medicines based on Ivy, but that’s a story for another day.
There is a 13th century collection of Welsh herbal and folklore remedies Meddygon Myddfai, or The medical practice of the celebrated Rhiwallon and his sons, of Myddvai, in Caermarthenshire, physicians to Rhys Gryg, lord of Dynevor and Ystrad Towy. It says you can prevent a lot of grief by not getting toothache in the first place by ‘whenever you wash, rub the inside of your ears with your fingers‘ – Since there is a lot of other further discussion on what to do about tooth ache this rather simple advice was either hugely ignored or just wasn’t that efficient.
If you were unlucky enough to get tooth worm there was nothing for it but to try to scald or smoke it out. ‘Take a candle of sheep’ suet, some eringo seed being mixed therewith, and burn it as near the tooth as possible, some cold water being held under the candle. The worms (destroying the tooth) will drop into the water, in order to escape from the heat of the candle‘
It lists the bark of ivy (Hedera helix), leaves of a honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) , leaves from a holly (Ilex aquifolium), betony (Stachys betonica), round birthwort (Aristolochia sp.) and thorn apple (Datura stramonium) as herbal cures and gives advice on how to use balls of bruised roots of pellitory of Spain (Anacyclus pyrethrum) stuffed between the cheek and the sore tooth and basically pace about, spitting as the drool built up, replacing the ball three times before going to bed, wrapping up warm and having a good night’s sleep, pain free.
I have no idea about the efficacy of any of the above, but I certainly wouldn’t hold out too much hope however for the cure that reads:
‘Get an iron nail and engrave the following words theron, -\- agla -\- Sabaoth -\- athanatos -\- and insert the nail under the affected tooth. Then drive it into an oak tree, and whilst it remains there the toothache will not return. But you should carve on the tree with the nail the name of the man affected with toothache, repeating the following: By the power of the Father and these consecrated words, as thou enterest into this wood, so let the pain and disease depart from the tooth of the sufferer. Even so be it. Amen‘ (Meddygon Myddfai pg 454)
When it must out
‘Take some newts, by some called lizards, and those nasty beetles which are found in fens during summer time, calcine them in an iron pot and make a powder therof. Wet the forefinger of the right hand, insert it in the powder, and apply it to the tooth frequently, refraining from spitting it off, when the tooth will fall away without pain. It is proven‘ ( (Meddygon Myddfai pg 310)
‘Seek some ants with their eggs and powder, have this powder blown into the tooth through a quill, and be careful that it does not touch another tooth‘ (Meddygon Myddfai pg 352)
‘Take the roots of nightshade with black berries (Solanum nigrum), and pound them well in goat’s milk, then add the black berries separately pounded thereto, incorporate the whole into a pulp, and macerate in vinegar for xiii days; renew the vinegar three days, then powder the residue and add vinegar thereto for three times more, when this has cleared, decant the vinegar, and dry the sediment in the sun or near the fire in the like heat. Let the powder be put in the tooth if there be a cavity therein, and it will extract it without pain, and without delay‘ (Meddygon Myddfai pg 392)
Prevention being better than cure..
Medieval toothpaste recipe from the Meddygon Myddfai :
‘Take elecampane (Inula helenium), and scrub your teeth therewith briskly, it will make them firm, white and healthy‘ (Meddygon Myddfai pg 344)