Dental Care And Folklore

Have you ever wondered what people did before the advent of accessible dental care?

It is not uncommon for some patients to be afraid of visiting the dentist; even the most modern and welcoming dental practices like the Clock Tower Dental Clinic in Epsom. Of course, we do all that we can to put patients at ease by introducing new technologies to help, such as the Wand, an injection free local anaesthetic system.

It is worth bearing in mind though, that however much you dislike dental visits, the alternatives are much worse, and usually more painful too. In today’s blog from our Epsom dental practice team, we thought we would take a look at how people coped with dental problems in the past, before the advent of the modern surgery.

Dental folklore remedies

It is worth remembering that many folklore remedies originated because there were no professional doctors or dentists available to the huge majority of the population. Very often, problems in these areas were brought to the local ‘wise woman’, sometimes referred to as a ‘witch’. In some cases, these people did have some experience of the use of herbs in medicine, but equally, some were what we would refer to today as ‘scammers’. They would create spells etc purely for money, knowing there was no benefit to them.

The following are just a handful of old folkloric remedies that were used to treat dental problems in the past.


Quite commonly, animals with prominent teeth, such as donkeys, featured in folkloric tales. The ancient Greeks believed that donkey’s milk swilled around the mouth would lead to a healthier mouth, whereas in some areas of Germany in the 1920s, it was believed that you could cure a toothache by kissing a donkey!


Another German doctor in the mid 1800s attempted to cure a patient’s toothache by crushing a ladybird against the affected tooth. He reported that it was effective in all but a few female patients. It is worth remembering though, that belief in these types of cures was very strong, probably resulting in what we now know as the placebo effect.


Herbs and natural products have been used in dentistry for some time. A combination of vinegar, honey and salt was used in an attempt to keep teeth looking whiter, which, of course, we would now recognise to be more likely to strip the teeth of the enamel! Chewing parsley was used to produce sweeter smelling breath, and is still known today to be beneficial after eating garlic. Clove oil too contains eugenol which is commonly used in healthcare as a local antiseptic and anaesthetic. Not all herbs that were used were so beneficial though, and Henbane, or ‘stinking nightshade’ was also used by some to relieve dental pain, perhaps ignorant in the fact that this is a poisonous plant!

We suspect that given the option of the above (especially the donkey kissing!), most of us would prefer our dental care to be left in the hands of professionals who have many years of training and experience behind them. Although we believe in holistic dental care, you can be sure that all treatments that we provide at the Clock Tower Dental Clinic are both safe and effective, with not a donkey or ladybird in sight!

To arrange an appointment to see one of our clinical team, please call our Epsom dental practice on 01372 720136.