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Did Pilgrims or Native Americans Have Cavities?

added on: November 5, 2014
Cartoon image of two teeth

As Thanksgiving nears and we’re all getting excited to enjoy turkey, stuffing, vegetables, our favorite pies, and perhaps even a nap or two, all of us at our Long Island pediatric dental office got to thinking, “Did Pilgrims or Native Americans have cavities?”

Thanksgiving was first shared between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims who came to America from England. These two groups joined at a table full of food to celebrate their cooperation and survival, and the tradition is still very much alive. However, one of these groups had more cavities and worse dental health than the other. Can you guess which one?

The Pilgrims

The Pilgrims had more cavities and gum disease than the Native Americans. With limited ways to brush their teeth (toothbrushes and toothpaste weren’t invented yet), and a not-so-healthy diet, the Pilgrims’ dental health was less than ideal.

During a time when there were no airplanes for trips across the Atlantic Ocean, the Pilgrims traveled by sea on a ship called The Mayflower. During the long trip, the Pilgrims had limited food choices. Mostly munching on food that would not go bad, the Pilgrims ate dried meats and fruits, beans, and a lot of hardtack, which is a dry biscuit that’s made of flour, water, and salt. Lack of access to fresh food, vegetables, and a balanced diet was not great for the Pilgrims’ smiles.

The Native Americans

Even though they lacked access to toothbrushes and toothpaste, Native Americans’ teeth were automatically healthier than the Pilgrims’ because of their better diets. Native Americans ate berries, nuts, meat, vegetables, and grains. It’s as true today as it was in the 14 and 1500s that a balanced diet is crucial for a healthy, long-lasting smile; it’s what your Long Island pediatric dentist recommends. But what you eat is only part of what helps keep our mouths healthy.

After we eat, we need to clean our teeth and remove any leftover food particles that may be hanging around. When a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste weren’t available, the Pilgrims and Native Americans used the next best thing. Both groups made a toothbrush-like tool out of pig hair that was tied to an animal bone or a twig from a tree. They used needles from a pine tree like we use toothpicks today to remove food from teeth. Both groups rubbed herbs, salt, and leaves onto their teeth to freshen their mouths, and the Native Americans created something similar to toothpaste using the cucacua plant.

Still, neither the Native Americans nor the Pilgrims enjoyed the standard of oral health we do today. In order to get and keep your mouth healthy, brush twice a day, floss once day, and don’t forget to visit our pediatric dental office in Long Island regularly. Regular visits, in addition to a proper at-home routine and a good diet, will work together to keep your smile healthy, which is something we can all be thankful for!

Serving patients in Long Island, Westbury, and Nassau County.