DENTAL TREATMENTS IN ROMAN ALEXANDRIA
In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam complains about the odors emanating from the women pressed near her in the Great Synagogue:
Dulled by the heat, the drone of the sermons, and the rustle of skirts, I feel my head throb and my stomach lurch when the scent of sweat on metallic jewelry clashes with the sweet-smelling pomades, the exotic perfumes, and the fetid breath of dowagers chattering through their rotting teeth.
But treating dental diseases in Egypt goes back at least 5000 years. For bad breath (see my blog of October 13, 2015), Miriam’s contemporaries chewed on a lump of natron, a naturally occurring mixture of soda ash and sodium bicarbonate found in dry lake beds. Or they’d use elaborate mouth rinses such as one made of frankincense, goose fat, cumin, honey, and water.
Loose teeth were splinted in place with a mixture of ground barley, honey, and an antiseptic agent such as yellow ochre. Cavities were filled with linen dipped in fig juice or cedar oil. For an infected tooth, holes were drilled into the surrounding gum so that the pus could drain.
But patients also had the option of replacing their lost teeth. The lost tooth was replaced with a bridge made from the patient’s or a donor’s tooth and bound to the surrounding teeth with a gold or silver wire. Of course, this procedure may have been painful. The dental patients then didn’t have the advantage you do, namely a Miriam bat Isaac mystery to read while recuperating. Watch for the latest book, THE DEADLIEST THIEF, coming this year. Click here for a preview.