It might sound like fun to live a life of swashbuckling, island-hopping, and hanging out with parrots, but all the scurvy, sugarcane, and lack of running water on pirate ships can take a toll on a sailor’s dental health. In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day this month, here are some fun facts about why oral health problems were so common among pirates and why you should treasure your dentist’s hygiene advice.
What’s a Toothbrush, Matey?
Modern toothbrushes have nylon bristles that are designed to be easy to clean, but they were invented less than a century ago. In fact, toothbrushes made with course animal fur only became available a full century after the age of piracy. The best dental cleaning appliance a pirate could hope for was a rag or maybe a frayed twig, which aren’t efficient methods for removing plaque.
What good are pearls in your treasure chest if you don’t have anything pearly white in your smile? Proper oral hygiene can keep your teeth healthy and strong for a lifetime. This means brushing for two minutes twice a day, flossing, and using antibacterial mouthwash. It’ll give you a minty fresh feeling that a pirate could never dream of.
Eat Yer Veggies, Ye Scurvy Lot!
A pirate would often spend months at sea, so there weren’t many chances to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Since there wasn’t any form of refrigeration, a seafaring scoundrel wouldn’t even have frozen varieties. Scurvy is a serious disease caused by a lack of vitamin C with one symptom being swollen, bleeding gums. The resulting gum disease would eventually lead to tooth loss.
A British naval doctor eventually figured out that having citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes aboard a ship would prevent scurvy, but this was a few decades after the Golden Age of Piracy came to an end. Fortunately for you, advances in international shipping have made fresh fruits and vegetables quite accessible in America year-round.
The Main Tools of Pirate Dentistry Were Pliers and Rum
Pirates were already notoriously uneducated, and modern dental science was still a few centuries away. If a pirate’s tooth was giving him trouble, the best he could probably do was ask his matey to extract it for him. Tooth decay? Yank away. Fractured tooth? Let ‘er rip. Though excessive alcohol consumption is known to impede the healing process, the best available anesthesia probably came in wooden casks plundered from port towns.
Lucky for you, restorative dentistry is more available than it ever has been before. Techniques such as fillings, root canals, and dental crowns can save teeth from decay that would have been doomed centuries ago, and prostheses like dental bridges, dentures, and dental implants can replace lost teeth with lifelike restorations. To make things even better, regular dental exams can actually prevent tooth decay and tooth loss from happening in the first place!
Remember to appreciate modern dentistry while you talk like a pirate this September 19th and be especially mindful of any children around. Just like their bad teeth, pirates were known for their salty language, and we wouldn’t want kids hearing anything that would be rated arrrrrrrr.
About the Author
Dr. James D. Geer earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Texas at Houston and has advanced training and experience in oral surgery with an emphasis on extractions. He proudly serves as a member of the American Dental Association, the Texas Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. His office in Tomball, TX offers services a pirate could never dream of such as preventative, restorative, cosmetic, and emergency dentistry. For more information on keeping your teeth shinier than buried treasure, contact his office online or dial (281) 357-4337.